I am the last Republican to have represented the New York congressional district now represented by Rep. George Santos. When I was in office, it was labeled the 6th District and was, as it is now, a Queens/Nassau district. Today, it is known as the 3rd District and has less of Queens and more of Nassau — but is still basically the same mix of outer-borough New York City voters and suburban residents.
Let us look at the raw political situation that Santos has thrown us into. He is so politically radioactive in New York that he is already endangering Republicans’ chances in November’s local elections. A Republican town supervisor, who endorsed Santos last fall, told me recently, “Santos is already being draped around my neck.”
Polling conducted two weeks ago shows that 60 percent of the district’s voters want Santos to resign. Even 34 percent of Santos voters want him to depart. And that poll was taken before the most recent allegations — all of which Santos denies — that he supposedly stiffed a Navy veteran of $3,000 for the care of his service dog; reportedly performed as a drag queen in Brazil; and may have given the white power salute on the floor of the House.
This district is a classic “purple,” or swing, district that includes many Republican voters. They are mostly well-educated, economic conservatives. The ones I know are not neo-Nazis, nor racists; they abhor using the Holocaust and the 9/11 attacks for selfish, fraudulent political purposes.
The GOP margin for control of the House comes from New York State. The Republican seats gained in November were the margin that elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker. Those six Republican congressmen have already called for Santos’ resignation or expulsion.
The most significant calls came from Nassau County, long the most powerful county GOP organization in New York State — and maybe in the nation. Chairman Joe Cairo acknowledged a failure to properly vet Santos before twice nominating him. Now, he has made it clear that Santos is no longer welcome at GOP events. And Santos’ office constituent services are to be handled by other GOP congressional offices. In other words, the Republican Party here in New York intends to sever ties with Santos.
But, while Santos’s presence endangers local GOP prospects in Nassau County and in New York State, in Washington he remains crucial to the narrow margin the House GOP maintains. It is said the GOP Conference cannot afford to jettison Santos and reduce the slim, five-vote margin.
Thus, the conundrum: Local New York Republicans, who in effect elected the House majority, want Santos gone. But the product of that victory — the McCarthy-led Republican House majority — desperately needs Santos’s vote and apparently will try to justify keeping him in office.
One solution might satisfy all Republicans: Expel Santos, and make a big show of doing so. Take the lead in appearing at least outwardly outraged over Santos’s alleged lies, unacceptable behavior and arrogance. Match the anger that his constituents feel about being repeatedly misled.
Then, in 60 days when a special election occurs, the national GOP can pour millions of dollars into the district and make it a referendum on Republican — and Democratic — policies. The Nassau GOP likely will recruit someone who is the opposite of Santos to be their nominee. He/she will have no blemishes on their resume, and most likely will be a solid GOP candidate with proper political experience — not an untested, unvetted outsider. The point is, take the chance that you can keep the seat, only this time with a worthy Republican candidate who can represent the district credibly and be a reliable GOP vote in D.C.
Now, how to force McCarthy to take a step he so far has resisted? It’s simple, basic politics: These six New York State GOP congressmen — Nicholas LaLota, Anthony D’Esposito, Mike Lawler, Marcus Molinaro, Brandon Williams and Nick Langworthy — have given McCarthy the Speaker’s gavel.
Led by New York State GOP Chairman Langworthy, and supported by Chairman Cairo and Gerard Kassar, the chairman of the still-important New York State Conservative Party, these six Republicans — acting as a bloc and using the motion to vacate, which McCarthy agreed to — could threaten to take that gavel away unless McCarthy agrees to expel Santos immediately, removing his malignancy from Republican ranks.
Yeah, it’s called hard-ball politics. And it might take a political boss to do it. But if it doesn’t happen soon, the political malignancy that is George Santos may cost the GOP not only in New York State elections but nationally, too.
John LeBoutillier was a member of the 97th Congress, serving from 1981-83. Follow him on Twitter @johnlebout.