Many conservatives were taken aback by former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz, best known as the host of TV’s “Dr. Oz Show,” in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary.
The celebrity heart surgeon has flip-flopped on abortion, and although he claims to be pro-Second Amendment, he has expressed support for “red flag” laws and other gun control measures.
In short, a large number of Republican voters don’t consider Oz to be truly conservative.
Early Monday afternoon, he said in a tweet, “Mask mandates have not made us any safer. Why does the federal government keep ignoring the science and extending the mandates?”
Mask mandates have not made us any safer. Why does the federal government keep ignoring the science and extending the mandates?
— Dr. Mehmet Oz (@DrOz) April 18, 2022
The majority of Republicans and a large swath of independents would agree with that sentiment.
Unfortunately for Oz, two hours later, the frontrunner in the race, former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick, posted a devastating collection of clips of the Turkish-American doctor urging Americans to wear masks.
The video features over a dozen snippets of Oz telling Americans to mask up and even recommending that people wear two masks. He sounds a lot like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser whom many Americans have come to distrust.
— Dave McCormick (@DaveMcCormickPA) April 18, 2022
The optics for a conservative candidate could hardly be worse.
I am one of Trump’s most rabid supporters, but frankly, his support of this candidate baffles me.
Two sources familiar with deliberations inside Trump’s inner circle told Reuters the Oz endorsement has “divided local Republican Party officials and stunned close advisers who thought he had decided to stay out of the contest.”
According to the report, Trump’s closest advisers strongest have recommended he steer clear of making endorsements in the Republican primaries — particularly in this race.
Advisers pointed out that both Oz and McCormick have “enthusiastically adopted the former president’s America First agenda” and McCormick has many of Trump’s former aides working on his campaign.
At a March meeting, Trump told the group he had put the decision on hold.
“It’s not like he was knocking out a never-Trumper,” one source said, according to Reuters.
But, in the end, Trump “went with his gut.”
A third source told Reuters that former first lady Melania Trump had been behind the Oz endorsement.
Whatever the case, Trump offered strong support for Oz in his April 9 endorsement statement.
“This is all about winning elections in order to stop the Radical Left maniacs from destroying our Country,” the former president said.
“The Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a tremendous opportunity to Save America by electing the brilliant and well-known Dr. Mehmet Oz for the United States Senate,” he said.
“Dr. Oz is Pro-Life, very strong on Crime, the Border, Election Fraud, our Great Military, and our Vets, Tax Cuts, and will always fight for and support our under-siege Second Amendment. He will ensure America will become Energy Independent again,” Trump said.
He concluded by saying Oz “will do very well in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where other candidates will just not be accepted. He knows his job is to serve every single Pennsylvanian. Dr. Oz is smart, tough, and will never let you down, therefore, he has my Complete and Total Endorsement.”
I am honored to receive President Trump’s full support and endorsement, and I thank him for that. President Trump knows how critical it is to change the kinds of people we send to Washington. I’m ready to bring an America First agenda to the Senate for Pennsylvania. pic.twitter.com/7gmhZupinr
— Dr. Mehmet Oz (@DrOz) April 10, 2022
Reuters reported that the endorsement has left Pennsylvania Republicans “confused and riled.”
Mark Hrutkay, vice chairman of the Republican Party in Washington County in western Pennsylvania, told the outlet he has been inundated with calls from unhappy voters.
“I have not had one call from a voter who supported the endorsement. They are pissed off,” Hrutkay said. “This doesn’t mean they are abandoning Trump, because they’re not. They just don’t understand the endorsement.”
Sam DeMarco, chairman of the Republican Caucus of the Allegheny County Council, told Reuters he was surprised by the news but doesn’t believe it will have a significant influence on the race.
“Voters have a lot of questions about Oz’s conservative credentials on issues like guns and abortion,” DeMarco said. “I am not quite sure why [Trump] decided to endorse at this point in the race. He’s putting his credibility on the line.”
Muhlenberg University political science professor Chris Borick sees the decision to back Oz as risky and said Trump’s “goal in the end is to look good and there’s a good chance he won’t when the race is over.”
Meanwhile, Lee Snover, the Republican Party chairman of Northampton County, said the uproar is much ado about nothing.
“People are becoming unhinged. Oz is a great candidate,” he told Reuters. “I got the same treatment when I backed Trump and people criticized me. They were wrong then and they are wrong about Oz.”
McCormick has held onto single-digit leads over the famed TV doctor since polling began in this primary in December. The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows McCormick up by 4.2 percent.
The single poll taken since Trump’s endorsement showed Oz with a 3-point lead over McCormick. Although this survey was conducted by the Trafalgar Group, a Republican pollster with a strong record, it should be noted that some results from this polling group have been outliers. In mid-December and again in early February, Trafalgar had Oz up 11 points while all other pollsters showed McCormick leading the pack.
We’ll get a better idea of the impact of Trump’s endorsement as more pollsters weigh in — and a final answer when the results of the May 17 primary are tallied.
The importance of this race cannot be overstated. Each Senate race in November’s general election will be critical as Republicans fight to win back the majority. With a current 50-50 split, the result of just one race could determine which party controls the upper chamber.
In the end, Snover’s assessment is probably right. Trump’s endorsement of Oz won’t make much of a difference in the primary.
It’s more a reflection of Trump’s judgment, which, as much as we love him, is not infallible. The Oz endorsement was a huge demonstration of that.