The Great GOP Rip-Off of 2022 Isn’t Even Just About Trump Robbing The Base Blind
Trump isn’t happy that his hand-picked Pennsylvania Senate candidate, Mehmet “Dr” Oz, who is suspected of having paid Trump several million dollars to endorse him, is a total lemon. Trump has been quoted all week as having told confidants that Oz “is going to ‘fucking lose,’ unless something drastically changes.” So far, all that’s drastically changing is the increasing rate at which Oz's campaign is sinking. And now the NRSC has announced they’re not going to throw their money down that rathole anymore. And all those ten of millions of dollars Trump is sucking out of the party base, isn't making it into campaigns-- just into Trump's own accounts.
In recent weeks, some Trump allies have repeatedly flagged polling for the former president showing Dr. Oz down, at times by wide or double-digit margins, to his Democratic opponent. Trump has sometimes responded by asking advisers how it’s possible that someone who was that popular on TV for so long is doing so poorly in the polls. When Trump has inquired if the polling has been “phony” or skewed, multiple people close to him have assured him that— as one of the sources describes to Rolling Stone— “this is not a matter of the polls being ‘rigged,’ there are major problems with this campaign and, more specifically, this candidate.”
This source adds that Trump’s “view is that it would be incredibly embarrassing for Oz if he loses to ‘that guy’ because he thinks so little of [Fetterman]. He thinks Fetterman is in poorer shape than Biden and has hidden in his basement more [than Joe Biden].” (The Democratic Senate nominee has been recovering from a stroke he suffered earlier this year, shortly before winning his primary.)
But it wouldn’t just be embarrassing for Dr. Oz. According to a third source with knowledge of the situation, the ex-president has gone as far as to privately ask in the past two months if it was a mistake to endorse Dr. Oz in the Senate GOP contest. Mehmet Oz narrowly defeated David McCormick, husband to former Trump administration official Dina Powell, in a bruising primary that largely involved top-tier candidates trying to out-MAGA one another while begging for Trump’s endorsement. His eventual blessing of Dr. Oz over McCormick annoyed various members of the GOP elite, Trumpland, and the “America First” rank and file who saw Dr. Oz as a fake conservative or weaker general-election contender.
And having already helped drag Dr. Oz over the finish line in that primary, Trump appears prepared to try to do so again in the general. Hours after this story published on Friday, the former president announced that he would travel to Pennsylvania for a Sept. 3 rally in support of Doug Mastriano, Dr. Oz, and— in his self-obsessed terms— the “entire Pennsylvania Trump ticket.”
…Trump is hardly alone in dabbling in Oz skepticism right now. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly feuded with Trump for control over the tone of the party, has sought to temper expectations about Republicans retaking the upper chamber, mentioning “candidate quality” as a possible inhibitor. It is still only August, but current polling data show that GOP fortunes look better for possibly regaining control of the House than of the Senate. Top GOP lawmakers and operatives have for months been extremely concerned about Dr. Oz’s “candidate quality,” and what they see as his lack of political charisma and his amateurish campaigning. “Is he in this to win? Does he think he’s going to win? Because I don’t think he’s acting like it, and that isn’t comforting,” one well-connected GOP operative working on 2022 races said earlier this month. According to two sources familiar with the matter, various consultants and figures in the party and conservative movement are also frustrated at Dr. Oz for not sinking many more millions into his own run for office, given that the famous TV doctor is reportedly worth upwards of $100 million. That is one factor leading some in the Republican elite to question whether Dr. Oz actually believes he will win and therefore worth the investment.
As Dr. Oz has sunk behind his rival Fetterman in successive polls, the national Republican Party has signaled that it shares Trump’s dim view of his chances. The National Republican Senate Committee recently pulled ads for Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, along with two other Senate races. By contrast, a super PAC supporting McConnell has plowed roughly $28 million into Ohio to support another Trump-endorsed candidate, J.D. Vance, who faces a tight race with Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan, according to recent polling.
If it’s hard to imagine anyone in politics as crooked Señor Trumpanzee, you probably don’t know NRSC head Rick Scott, who ran the world’s largest private healthcare company as a criminal enterprise. When the FBI and IRS stepped in in 1997, Scott was forced to resign as the company’s CEO and eventually pleaded the Fifth Amendment 75 times to keep from incriminating himself. His company, though, pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and agreed to pay the largest health care fraud fine in U.S. history, over a billion dollars, having admitted to systematically overcharging the government and to fraudulently billing Medicare and other health programs. This was Scott’s record of accomplishment when Floridians elected him governor and then senator and when the Republican senators then elected him to head their election cash machine. Now they’re crying he’s been ripping them off and stealing their money, the same way he ripped off Medicare.
Just after midnight this morning, the Washington Post published a piece by Isaac Arnsdorf about the Great GOP Rip Off of 2022. “Republican Senate hopefuls,” he wrote, “are getting crushed on airwaves across the country while their national campaign fund is pulling ads and running low on cash— leading some campaign advisers to ask where all the money went and to demand an audit of the committee’s finances, according to Republican strategists involved in the discussions.”
In a highly unusual move, the National Republican Senatorial Committee this week canceled bookings worth about $10 million, including in the critical states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. A spokesman said the NRSC is not abandoning those races but prioritizing ad spots that are shared with campaigns and benefit from discounted rates. Still, the cancellations forfeit cheaper prices that came from booking early, and better budgeting could have covered both.
“The fact that they canceled these reservations was a huge problem — you can’t get them back,” said one Senate Republican strategist, who like others spokes on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. “You can’t win elections if you don’t have money to run ads.”
The NRSC’s retreat came after months of touting record fundraising, topping $173 million so far this election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. But the committee has burned through nearly all of it, with the NRSC’s cash on hand dwindling to $28.4 million by the end of June.
As of that month, the committee disclosed spending just $23 million on ads, with more than $21 million going into text messages and more than $12 million to American Express credit card payments, whose ultimate purpose isn’t clear from the filings. The committee also spent at least $13 million on consultants, $9 million on debt payments and more than $7.9 million renting mailing lists, campaign finance data show.
“If they were a corporation, the CEO would be fired and investigated,” said a national Republican consultant working on Senate races. “The way this money has been burned, there needs to be an audit or investigation because we’re not gonna take the Senate now and this money has been squandered. It’s a rip-off.”
The NRSC’s chairman, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, has already taken heat from fellow Republicans for running ads featuring him on camera and releasing his own policy agenda that became a Democratic punching bag— leading to jokes that “NRSC” stood for “National Rick Scott Committee” in a bid to fuel his own presumed presidential ambitions.
Other spending decisions, such as putting about $1 million total into reliably blue Colorado and Washington earlier this month sparked fresh questions after the committee turned around and canceled buys in core battlegrounds.
The NRSC invested heavily in expanding its digital fundraising and building up its database of small-dollar donors. But online giving to Republicans, not just the NRSC, sagged earlier this year from what consultants said was a combination of inflation, changes to Facebook advertising policies, concerns about emails caught in spam filters, and complacency with an anticipated Republican wave. Some Republicans also suspect former president Donald Trump’s relentless fundraising pitches and cash hoarding has exhausted the party’s online donor base.
…Democrats are outspending Republicans by more than double in the Arizona Senate race; by almost two-to-one in Nevada and by four-to-one in Ohio, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact. Republicans are also being outspent by about $14 million in Georgia.