On Tuesday, just after Republican Rep. George Santos got committee assignments in the House of Representatives, news broke that he had scammed a disabled veteran out of money needed for surgery to save the life of the veteran’s service dog. On Wednesday, a blurry photo emerged apparently showing Santos as a drag queen during his time in Brazil.
Guess which of these stories Santos moved more quickly to deny? Hint: It’s the one where he didn’t harm anyone.
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“The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag Queen or ‘performed’ as a drag Queen is categorically false,” Santos tweeted at 8:20 Thursday morning. “The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results. I will not be distracted nor fazed by this.”
In contrast, his only response to the report that his scam led to a dog’s death in the first 36 hours after that news broke seems to have been a text to the publication Semafor saying: “Fake. No clue who this is.” More than two hours after he denied being a drag queen on Twitter, he managed a tweet professing sorrow and outrage that anyone would believe he had scammed a desperate dog owner and caused the animal’s death.
”The reports that I would let a dog die is shocking & insane. My work in animal advocacy was the labor of love & hard work. Over the past 24hr I have received pictures of dogs I helped reduce throughout the years along with supportive messages,” he tweeted at 10:31 AM. “These distractions won’t stop me!”
Two former acquaintances of Santos told Reuters they knew him as a drag queen in Brazil. Brazilian drag queen Eula Rochard met Santos in drag at a 2005 pride parade, she told Reuters, and Santos also competed in a 2008 drag beauty pageant. A source who didn’t want to be named told Reuters Santos had competed in more than one drag beauty pageant and hoped to be Miss Gay Rio de Janeiro.
Santos, who is openly gay, could have rolled with this. There’s nothing wrong with being a drag queen, after all, and heaven knows it’s not the most shocking news to come out of his past this week. But Santos is making clear what he thinks is more damaging to him as a Republican politician. The report that he set up a GoFundMe for surgery for a veteran’s service dog, then ghosted with the money months before the dog died was first published on Tuesday at 5:28 PM. On Wednesday, Semafor published a terse denial that Santos had texted a reporter. But his full public denial took 22 more hours, 40 hours after Patch first ran the story.
In contrast, it took 17 hours after the very first tweet about his drag past and less than nine hours after Reuters published a story for him to strongly deny that story.
Honestly, on top of how absolutely horrifying and evil it is to have stolen money intended to save a dog’s life, this is revealing. A lot of people really like dogs, and when you add in that it was a service dog for a disabled veteran, that tugs on multiple heartstrings even for the those who aren’t dog-lovers. But whatever the reason Santos didn’t quickly go on Twitter or release a formal statement to deny having stolen that money and killed that dog, he found it essential to deny that he had been a drag queen much more energetically.
The sad thing is that it may not be a political miscalculation for a Republican politician. The only reason Santos is hanging on is that Kevin McCarthy needs him and his vote in Congress. McCarthy needed Santos through 15 votes for speaker, and he will continue to need Santos for tight votes in a closely divided House under McCarthy’s own weak leadership. And given the way Republicans around the country are using LGBTQ issues as red meat for their base, with Santos himself having participated in that by serving as a gay Republican who nonetheless strongly backs Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, a background as a drag queen may be that poisonous in a bigoted party. It would be truly disgusting if the thing that finally led to Republicans ditching Santos was that he’d been a drag queen, but it’s not unthinkable given the party’s recent rhetoric.
As long as McCarthy and Republicans keep Santos on board as a House Republican in good standing whose only punishment for having campaigned on a fake identity is that he got assigned to minor committees rather than big-deal ones, the only values we can discern on their part are the pursuit and maintenance of power. Santos seems more worried about their response to him being a drag queen than their response to him scamming a veteran and causing the death of the veteran’s dog, but McCarthy is unlikely to signal anything because his own shaky standing means he can’t afford to. Even the news that a Santos staffer had impersonated McCarthy’s chief of staff in conversations with donors drew a response so muted it might as well have been a silent shrug.
As sordid and potentially criminal as the dog fundraising scam is, though, the really big questions about Santos remain how he suddenly got rich enough to lend his campaign $700,000 just a few years after he was facing eviction and spending his time on $3,000 GoFundMe scams. That’s the real question, and one that neither Santos nor McCarthy has gone anywhere near.
The Republican Party seems locked in a death spiral of unpopular anti-American rights policies. They seem to believe that the most important things to America are taking away people’s rights to choose what they do with their bodies and Hunter Biden’s junk. Kerry and Markos were right in their hypothesis about the midterms and they have predictions for the upcoming year and 2024.
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