Nicholas Goldberg: George Santos is trying to pull De Leon

It was a lot of fun watching then-Congressman-elect George Santos swaying and weaving to avoid media fuss on his first day on Capitol Hill. He dashed in and out of the aisles, reporters pursued him through the halls, he often looked lost but kept moving, refusing to answer questions about the embellishments of his resume and the lies he told about his background.

“Hi George, what’s your name today?” shouted a reporter. “Are you planning to resign?” called another. “Why did you lie on your resume?” Santos didn’t make eye contact, but he walked, his face stone, and often chatted on his phone, though I doubt anyone was on the other end.

Santos is under extraordinary pressure. Especially when mounting complaints and official investigations add to the media’s incessant attention. But, for now at least, he shows no sign of bowing under pressure or giving up.

Opinion writer

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor-in-chief of the Op-Ed page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and Sunday Opinion section.

It’s not so different from the situation faced by Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin DeLeon, who has barely been able to enter the council chamber for the past three months as it follows him everywhere he goes by taunting angry protesters over his offensive comments on a leaked report. Audio Recording. De León ignores his opponents where possible (except when he physically fights them) and like Santos, refuses to stand down. He told an interviewer, “No, I’m not going to quit because there’s a lot of work ahead.”

Then there is Benjamin Netanyahu, who has just been sworn in for the sixth time as Israel’s prime minister despite a slew of ongoing bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. His criminal trial has been underway since May 2020, but when asked if he would resign, he said he was not going anywhere. “I feel a deep commitment to continuing to lead Israel in a way that guarantees our future,” he said.

See pattern? It’s the latest trend among politicians accused of wrongdoing: their cheekiness. Stand firm against accusations that could have potentially ended your career in any previous era. Pretend to be on the phone, ignore the insults and yells, and deny the charges. Stone wall. And see what happens.

Why don’t you give it a chance?

I think this is the Al Franken effect. Franken (D-Minnesota) quit the US Senate when he was accused of sexual misconduct in 2017 rather than stay and fight — only to later conclude he quit too quickly. His peers and colleagues from both parties watched closely and saw that he could have saved his job if he had just stuck around.

Meanwhile, they have also been watching President Trump craft the alternative approach, and take success to a whole new level. When candidate Trump was caught on tape screaming about having his genitals removed from women, he offered a perfunctory apology and dismissed the uproar as “locker room banter.”

Then the Teflon chief withstood two impeachment attempts (compared to President Nixon, who resigned in 1974 rather than face the possibility of one), insisting he was the victim of a “witch hunt.”

When Trump ran for re-election, he received 74 million votes.

Wait for it as long as possible.

It is the height of arrogance and cynicism, of course, to assume that you can only impede the voters, and that their anger will vanish thanks to their short attention spans. But more often than not, it seems like a decent strategy.

President Biden himself called on De Leon, a weighted city council member, to step down, but he paid no heed.

To be clear, I don’t think politicians should necessarily resign the moment they are accused of wrongdoing. Politicians accused of criminal conduct must have a chance to stand trial and present a defense before they dry up. Unconfirmed assertions should not destroy functionality.

But many of these cases are not related to unproven assertions. Santos, for one, is facing the facts, as far as I can tell. The schools he says he attended, the jobs he said he held, the property he owned, whether he was Jewish – the documents and first-hand fact-checking have failed to support his claims. He shouldn’t wait for this scandal and then move on as if everything was normal.

In the end, whether the filibusters usually act is not due to the seriousness of the breach or even to the quality of the evidence, but to simple politics. Santos could manage to hang on until voters forget about him – or he could be forced out tomorrow.

“I didn’t do anything wrong, period,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in 2021, when he was facing allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. Three months later, though, he did just that, because he had few political allies left, New allegations kept coming in, and the state’s attorney general — from Cuomo’s own party — issued a damning 165-page report on his misconduct.

Franken resigned after losing the support of Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer and other key allies in the early days of the #MeToo movement.

In De Leon’s case, politics still play out. It looks defiant, even with the recall campaign in progress. We’ll see if he can avoid quitting.

But the broader point is this: We live in a time when voters not only have short attention spans, but when the bar for what constitutes unforgivable bad behavior has been raised far beyond previous perception. Thanks in part to Trump but also to many others, voters have become accustomed to, and even expect, bad behavior from their leaders.

Not surprisingly, officials who get caught think they can wait and see if the voters forget or forgive.

But when it comes to egregious abuses — and Santos’ repeated lied to voters certainly — she shouldn’t.

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