It's a GOP primary, so the moment I realized Dr. Oz's first name is Mehmet, I realized bigotry was going to be a big factor among Republicans selecting their nominee for the open Pennsylvania Senate seat. Mehmet Cengiz Öz wasn't born in Konya or Izmir or Kirikkale or even Istanbul; he was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents were wealthy, successful immigrants from Turkey. He went to Harvard and got his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was student body president. Sounds pretty all-American, right? Sure-- unless you're a xenophobic, Islamophobic bigot... which more than a few Republicans-- especially of the rural Trumpist variety-- are.
So it was always just a matter of time before other Republicans would be trying to plant doubts in peoples' minds about Dr. Oz being... well for many backward Trumpists Muslim = terrorist. Yesterday, Shane Goldmacher looked into the Republican primary race through that demented right-wing prism. Right from the start, the David McCormick campaign was whispering about the "electability" of a Turk, a whisper that has now become a scream.
At McCormick's first pitch meeting with Señor Trumpanzee-- who has made overt bigotry permissible inside the GOP again-- McCormick and his wife, herself an Egyptian-born Christian who served on Trump's national security team, "pulled out a picture that showed Dr. Oz alongside others wearing Muslim head coverings," as though that in itself was a disqualification! They told Trump that "the fact that Dr. Oz was Muslim would be a political liability in parts of Pennsylvania." Which parts? Oh you know which parts... counties like these half dozen where the Trump vote was highest and the vaccination rate is lowest:
Fulton Co.- 85.5% Trump (36% fully vaccinated)
Bedford Co.- 83.5% Trump (39% fully vaccinated)
Juniata Co.- 80.1% Trump (40% fully vaccinated)
Potter Co.- 79.9% Trump (37% fully vaccinated)
Jefferson Co.- 78.7% Trump (48% fully vaccinated)
Somerset Co.- 77.6% Trump (48% fully vaccinated)
For comparison's sake, just 48.8% of Pennsylvania votes cast went to Trump and 67% of Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated. In the counties with big populations, Trump didn't have many votes and residents also show they're smarter than the average in another way-- high vaccine rates: Philadelphia Co. (17.9% Trump, 68% fully vaccinated), Allegheny Co. (39.2% Trump, 69% fully vaccinated), Montgomery Co. (36.3% Trump, 76% fully vaccinated), Delaware Co. (36.1% Trump, 74% fully vaccinated).
For the primary voters in the moron counties, Trump's endorsement is considered decisive. Trump claims he will endorse in the race eventually, but Trump's endorsement is likely to be based on polling. He'll want to attach himself to whomever appears to be winning so that he can take credit for the victory. The most recent public polling-- last week by Fox News-- shows McCormick ahead, as does the average of all polls since McCormick entered the race. McCormick is paying off every Trump retainer who will take his money but Oz has a typical member of his audience of lonely, brainless women who fall for his pseudoscience on his side, Melanie Trumpanzee.
Goldmacher wrote that "The McCormick campaign has publicly made Oz’s heritage an issue from McCormick’s first day as a candidate in January, when he called on Oz to renounce his Turkish citizenship. His campaign has since accused Oz of harboring “dual loyalties.” Oz’s Muslim faith has not been part of the public debate... 'This is an anonymous, false smear on a candidate’s wife who is an Arab American immigrant woman who fled the Middle East to escape religious persecution,' Ms. Szymanski [McCormick’s spokeswoman] said of the account of the McCormicks’ meeting with Trump. She said that it was 'designed to distract from the legitimate national security concerns' about Oz that 'could pose significant security risks,' including his dual citizenship, his Turkish military service, connections to the Turkish government and financial links abroad."
Oz says he maintains dual citizenship to make it easier to visit his wealthy mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease and lives in Turkey. This is bullshit. He knows it would be much more difficult to maintain connections to the family fortune if he renounced his Turkish citizenship-- which he now says he will do if elected to the Senate. One of my oldest friends-- an American born in Turkey into a wealth aristocratic family-- has been cheated out of his inheritance, several hundred million dollars because, in effect, he renounced his Turkish citizenship.
But Oz’s ties to Turkey have lingered as an issue, as there is no known precedent of a sitting senator holding dual citizenship with a nation that can be at odds with American foreign policy. (After Senator Ted Cruz of Texas learned he had Canadian citizenship, he renounced it in 2014.)
On Wednesday, Oz said that he would renounce his Turkish citizenship if elected. Calling the issue a “distraction,” he accused McCormick of making “bigoted attacks” that were “reminiscent of slurs made in the past about Catholics and Jews.”
Oz would be the first Muslim senator in the United States, but he has not emphasized that history-making aspect of his candidacy. In an opinion essay in the Washington Examiner in January, he wrote that he had been “raised as a secular Muslim” and that his four children are all Christian.
The four people who described the exchange between the McCormicks and Trump did not know the setting or the source of the photograph they said Ms. Powell McCormick showed the former president. Among the few images readily accessible online in which Oz can be seen with people wearing Muslim head coverings are scenes from his father’s 2019 funeral in Istanbul. A video shows Oz behind two imams wearing turbans and clerical robes; later, he helps carry the coffin, draped in a green pall decorated with Quranic verses.
...Sean Hannity of Fox News, who endorsed Dr. Oz this week, has been whispering in Trump’s ear on Dr. Oz’s behalf, according to people familiar with those conversations, and Dr. Oz has made a dozen appearances on Hannity’s prime-time show since he entered the race, according to Media Matters, the liberal media watchdog group.
The Pennsylvania Republican primary has already seen millions of dollars in television ads, as both rivals sell themselves as the most conservative and most pro-Trump candidate.
An anti-Oz super PAC has slammed the surgeon as a “RINO,” or Republican in name only, with vivid images of him kissing his Hollywood star. Dr. Oz has narrated some of his campaign’s ads counterattacking at McCormick, saying in one, “He’s part of the swamp that labeled President Trump as Hollywood-- just like they say about me.”
In one commercial referring to his rival by name, McCormick did so not with the familiar “Dr. Oz” but as “Mehmet Oz.” Standing in front of an oversize American flag, McCormick opens the ad by saying, “When Mehmet Oz questions my patriotism, he’s crossed the line.”
The McCormick campaign has hired influential Trump alumni to guide its effort, including the former White House aides Stephen Miller and Hope Hicks, and the McCormicks’ private lobbying has included a separate dinner with Donald Trump Jr., according to people told of the meal.
McCormick himself was considered for various posts in the Trump administration, and met with the president-elect in 2016, though he never joined the government.
But a Trump endorsement of Dr. Oz would have its own logic. Like Trump himself, Dr. Oz built a national following as a television star. The former president has told people who have spoken to him about the race that he deeply appreciates the political power of such a celebrity given his own experience. And in 2016, Dr. Oz interviewed Trump on his show at the height of the presidential campaign.
A third Senate candidate, Carla Sands, whom Trump named ambassador to Denmark, is also running in Pennsylvania and had her own private audience with the former president last year.
A fourth candidate, Jeff Bartos, has contributed more than $1 million to his own campaign. He was the 2018 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor and entered the Senate race in March 2021-- more than six months ahead of either McCormick or Dr. Oz. Bartos has not had a formal sit-down with Trump, though the two spoke at an impromptu meeting at Mar-a-Lago a few months ago, according to a person told of the interaction.
Also running is Kathy Barnette, a political commentator who has written a book about being Black and conservative and has raised more than $1 million.
...The pro-Trump label can be an awkward fit for both McCormick and Oz.
McCormick is the former chief executive of the Bridgewater hedge fund and served in the Treasury Department of the second Bush administration. His career arc from West Point graduate to the financial world more neatly fits the traditional Republican establishment mold, and he said last year that the riot on Jan. 6 at the Capitol was “a dark chapter in American history.”
For his part, Oz first found fame as a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and clips showing him dancing with Michelle Obama have made their way into ads attacking him. He previously supported key elements of the Affordable Care Act and, while he calls himself “pro-life,” he struggled in a Fox News interview to articulate when he believes life begins.
Trump, according to advisers, has tracked the race closely but appears content-- for now-- to sit on the sidelines. He jealously guards his endorsement record and was already burned by his early backing of [wife-beater Sean] Parnell. Facing the possible defeat of candidates he is backing in other states, Trump has turned at least temporarily more cautious in some key Senate races.
Just as he is doing in two other crowded Republican primaries, in Ohio and Missouri, Trump is not picking sides while the field remains muddled. In both those states, he has also met with multiple candidates vying for his backing.
Rob Gleason, a former chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said a Trump endorsement in the state’s race “could be the tipping point in a close election.
“He’s just very important in Republican circles,” he said. “He still is.”