During the 2000s, television doctor Mehmet Oz was a self-described “moderate Republican” who compared himself to President Teddy Roosevelt and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — and when the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, was signed into law in 2010, he praised the universal health care systems in Switzerland and Germany. But that was before Oz, now 62, ran for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania in the 2022 midterms, making a hard-right turn and bragged about an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
Having narrowly defeated fellow Republican David McCormick in Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate primary, Oz is now up against the Democratic nominee, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, in the general election. And according to journalist Caleb Ecarma’s reporting in Vanity Fair on July 1, Oz fears that being too Trumpian will put him at a disadvantage against Fetterman — who had a 9% lead over him in a USA Today/Suffolk poll released in mid-June.
“In his closing pitch to Republicans voting in the Pennsylvania Senate primary last month,” Ecarma observes, “Mehmet Oz portrayed himself as pro-life, pro-police, pro-guns, and — most importantly — pro-Donald Trump. That message, along with a Trump endorsement, was enough for Oz to best his opponents in a contentious GOP primary. But since securing the party’s nomination in a recount three weeks ago, the TV doctor turned Senate hopeful has taken steps to distance himself from Trump in a general election rebrand that he hopes will win over independents and even ‘conservative Democrats.’”
Ecarma cites a post-primary appearance on Fox Business as an example of that “rebrand.” The television doctor told host Maria Bartiromo, “If you’re culturally a Democrat, God bless you, I’m with you. Come across, join us — we’ve got a big message and a big tent.”
But that is much different messaging from the primary, when Oz ran ads attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci — who he praised in the past — in order to woo the MAGA crowd. Now, hoping to defeat Fetterman in the general election, Oz is trying to avoid sound too MAGA and has removed “endorsed by Trump” from his campaign website.
“Of course, this shift is far from surprising,” Ecarma explains. “Given Pennsylvania’s status as a battleground state, Oz will have to make inroads with voters outside of Trump’s base to defeat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic Party’s nominee in the race, and fill outgoing Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat.”
In a general election pivot, Mehmet Oz is quietly shifting his campaign branding away from embrace of Donald Trump.— Axios (@axios) June 22, 2022
According to Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist Mike Mikus, Oz risks offending Trump loyalists by playing to the center.
Mikus told Vanity Fair, “I understand why Oz is doing it, but you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. He’s known as Trump’s candidate even among casual voters. But he’s playing with fire. To say that Donald Trump demands absolute loyalty is an understatement, and this actually has the potential to turn Trump against him.”
Trump loyalist Sebastian Gorka is already slamming Oz for distancing himself from Trump after winning the primary. One June 22, Gorka tweeted:
Oz just pulled a slimy move after Trump helped him.https://t.co/MbQg6vFWVR— Sebastian Gorka DrG (@SebGorka) June 23, 2022
That same day, far-right pundit Jack Posobiec pointed out that Oz had removed “endorsed by Trump” from his campaign website:
Who could have predicted this pic.twitter.com/1vQMhYdYUP— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) June 22, 2022
Mark Nevins, a Democratic strategist based in Philadelphia, argues that Pennsylvania residents view Oz as an outsider. The television doctor bought a house in the Philly suburbs, but not until 2022.
Nevins told Vanity Fair, “The Trump branding issue is not necessarily Oz’s biggest problem. He has his own baggage, namely that I think most people here think he lives in New Jersey. I’m not sure people really see him as a Pennsylvania resident. If not for his celebrity status, I don’t think anybody would take him seriously.”
Oz has done a lot of flip-flopping over the years. For example, he went from calling for universal health care in the past to saying that he wants to overturn Obamacare. And Oz’s flip-flopping isn’t lost on Jack Doyle, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
Doyle told Vanity Fair, “Mehmet Oz is a scam artist and a fraud who isn’t from Pennsylvania and doesn’t care about our values, but will say whatever he needs to in order to get ahead. At this point, he’s been on every side of every issue there is, and Pennsylvania voters know they can’t trust him.”
Reprinted with permission from Alternet.