One Night in Washington, D.C., With George Santos

Down and out with the Young Republicans and the man they call the “queen of New York City.”

Representative George Santos, a Republican from New York, during a joint meeting of Congress with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, April 27, 2023. Yoonwas rewarded with a greater say in how America deploys its nuclear umbrella and assurances it would be used to retaliate against a North Korean strike in the deal he struck with President Bidenat the White House on a state visit Wednesday. Photographer: Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C, on April 27, 2023. Photo: Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At the nondescript Admiral bar in Dupont Circle, there was no visible sign of the coming attraction, but maybe that was the point. He was marquee enough on his own, at least for a Wednesday night. A milieu of young conservatives, operatives, and House staffers were assembling to howl in the next-gen model of Donald Trump’s societal wrecking ball, and the name on everybody’s lips was George Santos.

I was challenged on entry for failing to register as press but quickly spoke with the event manager of the Washington, D.C., Young Republicans, Isaac Smith, who towered over me broad-shouldered and glistening. “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone,” he smirked with William F. Buckley flare.

Smith, an EMT by trade, saw carnage a plenty in his day job, and seemed eager for more as night fell and the hour of Santos’s appearance drew near. Following a national political trend, he confirmed, last year he and his cohort had successfully used the bylaws of the Young Republicans to wrest control from the moderate faction which had once governed the youth arm of the party. Their ranks include Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz’s communications director, Joel Valdez; Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance’s legislative correspondent, Brian Oakes; and Colorado Rep. Ken Buck’s chief counsel, Isabela Belchior.

Now, they were reveling in the chaotic bounty of their coup over the “Paul Ryan faction,” as one operative put it to me. For Smith and many of those gathered, Santos was the free-base alternative to the low-dose incumbents in the sundowning stages of their withered political careers. If corruption is the currency of Washington, why not celebrate the precision with which its most extravagant excesses cut through the noise, instead of shoving fingers in ears and turning a blind eye? Why not push the madness to its limits?

The accelerationist explanation was coherent, but there was another reason why Santos, whose list of lies and confabulations is too long to list here, was invited to speak. Among the political orientations of the club members I spoke with, I recorded anarcho-capitalist, feudalist, conservative, paleo-conservative, MAGA, and “Nazbol.” Staffers for Gaetz mingled among Catholic University students adorned in oversized crucifixes and sallow wool-suited evangelists. The so-called national Bolshevik told me that while he used to work for Dominion Energy, his current passion and career is the preservation of historic buildings. “Nothing wrong with buildings,” I offered, carefully.

For the crowd of assembled outcasts, Santos — with his fabricated background and the bizarre videos shot from inside his Hill office — embodied their own tormented psyches: noncommittal; confusing; sardonic; cut adrift from the guiding charter of a coherent national party and its grounding in historic continuity. They shifted now among various extreme ideologies, chasing the rush that Trump’s authoritarian nihilism had first unleashed.

What united Gaetz — who had attended a similar gathering just weeks before — and Santos was not a shared extremist political position, but an extremist prioritization of spectacle over all else, cutting straight to the bone of our entertainment-addled polis.

“People are concerned about him. They don’t think he’s a very good guy. There are calls for him to resign,” Smith says, from a small raised stair. “Well, without getting into the details of it, experience has taught me one thing, and that is anytime there is somebody in Washington that receives bipartisan condemnation, [they’re] at least worth meeting. And at least worth hearing from. And so, it is my honor and my pleasure to introduce to you the queen of New York City, congressman George Santos.”

The crowd goes wild, and then he’s there, microphone in hand, pink tie exploding. George Santos has entered the building.


Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., speaks at the Admiral bar in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2023.

Photo: Daniel Boguslaw

“Hi everybody. Uh, I guess, yeah, bipartisan condemnation. Wow, that’s strong words,” Santos began. “Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight. I think Rep. Gaetz previously stated that he brought in the Florida weather, well, I brought New York weather, so no humidity tonight. Much nicer, better for your skin, better for your hair. Ladies, do we agree? Look, this is my first appearance speaking in Washington. God, I hate the swamp, but thanks all of you for coming out.”

Santos is now in his element. He is shouting down Bryan Metzger, a Business Insider reporter hovering in the back aisles, for negative coverage Metzger put out days earlier. He is telling us to keep fighting for “what you think is best and what you believe in.” He tells us he is “going off script.” He is now offering advice like, “When they tell you to go be a dog catcher … be more … the moment you hit 25, get moving.” He is telling those in the peanut gallery, “I’m not going anywhere. They’ll have to drag my cold dead body out of this institution.”

Most importantly, he is telling us “the truth will set you free.” Then, as soon as he’s in, Santos is out. And that’s the show. Applause erupts.

As the crowd reassumed its mingling, many of the attendees looked like they crawled from the wreckage of a Nixon campaign bus driven straight through a Crisco factory. At a wobbly beer-strewn table, a “cyber contractor for one of the big four” drawled on about his real estate holdings, making sure to note that trailer park denizens “should be” the easiest class to exploit. I listened to the challenges of rent-seeking for 20 minutes before peeling off to interrogate a cluster of Georgetown students whose high hopes for a competitive GOP primary seem as far-flung as the idea that they could “meet girls” at this event.

In the corner, a periwinkle-suited man with red hair peered aimlessly out at the crowd. He looked out of place. But he was, I learned, in the exact right place, at the exact right time. A former lobbyist for Qatar, he had left K Street to pursue a career in musical theater, and was drawn to Santos like an artist to a muse. He proceeded to play a track off his phone when I agreed to listen to a number from the upcoming show he was now working on full time.

The plot followed a young woman from the heartland who travels to Washington to lobby the government and change the world, only to become gravely disenchanted watching politicians’ failure to pass legislation. From memory, he recited lyrics about the depressing aura of the Longworth cafeteria, the lack of libidinal energy on the Hill, and general reflections on how miserable life is as a lobbyist. His love for musical theater, which he shared with Santos, was at least part of the reason he was here. Beside me, a young Republican — made pseudo-famous by Trump retweeting his account of antifa kicking the shit out him — explained to Smith the details of the group’s Kentucky Derby party, where DJ “MAGA Mike” would be performing. I’ve had enough and made to leave.

On the way out, “The truth will set you free” kept bouncing around in my head. I had a sinking feeling that I’d seen this show before. The inventions, the hilarity, (alleged) crime, and depravity of Santos is something that not only captures the attention of the mottled rejects and freaks who have gathered to see him speak, but also you, the girl reading this, and me the writer writing this. The queen of New York is an evolution of the irresistible pageant of Trump, which liberals and conservatives cannot and will not look away from, no matter how hard they try.

I feel like I just watched the second act of some national tragicomedy, where nobody can escape white-knuckling their playbill as the band goes down with the ship. “The dumbing down of the country reflects itself on Broadway,” Stephen Sondheim once said. “The shows get dumber, and the public gets used to them.”

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