- The Washington Times
Monday, April 11, 2022

Some Republicans are none too pleased with former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of TV celebrity and surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz over David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive and spouse of ex-Trump Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

Since Mr. Trump announced over the weekend that he is supporting Mr. Oz, allies, supporters and conservative media figures have raised concerns that the endorsement could hamper Republicans’ chances of winning the crucial battleground state in the party’s bid to retake control of the Senate. They argue that the former daytime TV host lacks conservative policy positions.

The seat, which is being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey, is one of the few races considered a toss-up by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. And an average of recent polls compiled by RealClear Politics has Mr. McCormick leading Mr. Oz by less than three points.

“I have enormous respect for President Trump. I was honored to have his endorsement in PA. Twice. But I’m disappointed by this,” Sean Parnell, the former Trump-backed candidate who was forced to drop out of the race last year after allegations of abuse against his ex-wife emerged, wrote on Twitter.

“Oz is the antithesis of everything that made Trump the best president of my lifetime — he’s the farthest thing from America First & he’d be very bad for PA,” Mr. Parnell added.

Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican who helped lead the charge to contest the results of the 2020 presidential election, ridiculed Mr. Trump for making what he described as an ill-advised choice.

“This is happening because Trump’s surrounded himself by staff who are on McConnell’s payroll & hostile to the MAGA agenda. Everybody telling Trump who to endorse in primaries works for The Swamp,” Mr. Brooks said on Twitter, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “They played him. Again.”

Mr. Brooks has been feuding with Mr. Trump since the former president rescinded his endorsement of the lawmaker for a Senate seat in Alabama.

Conservative media personality Erick Erickson tweeted that it’s “like Donald Trump’s staff is sabotaging Trump by convincing him to make the worst possible endorsements,” while Breitbart News’ Joel Pollack wrote the endorsement “could divide MAGA in the only way that matters: he could lose America First conservatives over it.”

But given Mr. Trump’s history in television, supporters of the former president shouldn’t be so surprised he’s now behind another familiar face from TV, GOP strategist John Feehery said.

“The Dr. Oz Show,” where Mr. Oz gave medical advice that was sometimes controversial, aired for more than 12 years before it ended in January because of hisSenate candidacy. Prior to that, the cardiothoracic surgeon and Harvard graduate was a frequent guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“Oz is like Trump: a celebrity who made his money doing something else other than politics. Both have some non-traditional Republican perspectives,” Mr. Feehery said in an interview. “If you’re looking for an outsider candidate, this reinforces your view that Oz is the outsider.”

Mr. Trump cheered Mr. Oz‘s long history on TV during a rally in North Carolina over the weekend.

“When you’re in television for 18 years, that’s like a poll,” Mr. Trump said. “That means people like you.”

Mr. Feehery conceded that Mr. Trump weighing in on such a closely watched primary race is “risky” and that Mr. McCormick is “a safer choice” in the minds of many party insiders. But he suggested the concerns that Mr. Trump’s endorsement could hurt the party in the general election — no matter who is nominated — were overblown.

“I think Oz and McCormick are both good candidates, and Democrats are going to nominate this [Lt. Gov. John] Fetterman character who’s really far left,” Mr. Feehery continued. “My sense is that Republicans are going to win no matter who they pick.”

The concern about Mr. Oz does not appear to be present among Republican incumbents.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who often refrains from weighing in heavily on primary races, expressed confidence that the party will win the seat no matter which candidate is nominated.

“I think we’re in a good position to win that race regardless of who the nominee is, and I guess we will find out in the next few weeks how much this endorsement made a difference,” the Kentucky Republican said Sunday on Fox News.

Rep. Fred Keller, Pennsylvania Republican, endorsed Mr. Oz on Monday, saying in a statement that he “is a strong conservative outsider who will fight hard to protect life, defend the 2nd Amendment, and stand up for taxpayers in the Senate.”

The McCormick campaign’s response has so far been limited and reserved.

Jeff Roe, a top strategist to Mr. McCormick, tweeted over the weekend that he “is going to be the next Senator from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Mr. McCormick treaded carefully during a talk radio interview Monday with The Rich Zeoli Show. He avoided any direct criticism of Mr. Trump and chalked up the endorsement to the former president’s longtime friendship with Mr. Oz.

“I think that he was good friends with Mehmet Oz, knew him through Oz’s Hollywood TV career and they also had homes near one another in Palm Beach in Florida,” Mr. McCormick said. “I think there was a real friendship there and listen, I respect the president. He‘s incredibly popular in Pennsylvania, as you know well, and has a huge following among conservatives. Mehmet Oz doesn’t.”

He went on to say that the ex-president’s endorsement “certainly is a big deal,” but the “really big deal is that Mehmet isn’t a conservative and not an America First conservative.”

Mr. Oz, whose campaign website now features a bright red and blue pop-up promotion to donate, has bragged that he emerged victorious among the crowded field of GOP Senate hopefuls who had sought Mr. Trump’s endorsement.

“Everyone, especially David McCormick – a pro-China, Wall Street insider, wanted this endorsement,” Mr. Oz said in a statement. “But President Trump wisely endorsed me because I’m a conservative who will stand up to Joe Biden and the woke Left.”

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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