Mehmet Oz used former President Donald Trump as a human shield at a Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary debate Monday night.
At the event hosted by ABC27 in Harrisburg, Oz was attacked by his Republican opponents as insufficiently conservative on issues ranging from abortion to transgender rights to Covid-19 policy before he ran for the state’s open Senate seat.
Over and over, Oz pointed to the fact that Trump endorsed him, particularly over his chief foe, former hedge fund CEO David McCormick.
“Dishonest Dave is at it again,” said Oz, following a jab from McCormick over the celebrity doctor’s changing views on fracking. “He went groveling to President Trump, again, with these types of allegations. President Trump saw right through him, did not endorse him, and then he endorsed me.”
The race for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat is one of the most competitive contests in the country, and it could determine which party wins the Senate majority. The GOP candidates on Monday sought to appeal to Trump supporters, with nearly all of them either endorsing his lies about the 2020 election or raising questions about the voting processes that led to that year’s outcome.
But only Oz could tout Trump’s nod — and so he did, repeatedly. His success in the primary will depend on whether he can convince Pennsylvania Republican voters that he is one of them. Millions of dollars of negative ads have slammed Oz as a “Hollywood liberal” and “RINO,” and he has faced skepticism from some party activists about his past views on key issues.
Throughout the debate, McCormick spelled out a long list of Oz’s supposed apostasies, often citing the exact dates in the past in which he made such remarks.
“Mehmet has flip-flopped on every major issue, and you can go to his own comments. May 21, 2019, an interview with the Breakfast Club,” he said. “He essentially said that he was worried about the pro-life movement that was creating fights, and he was worried about states putting in place pro-life legislation, and he called into question when life begins at conception.”
Later in the night, McCormick said: “You did an entire show on July 22, 2015 that was about 8-, 7-, 8-, 9-year-old children and you were supporting those conversations about transgender transitions — surgical things, treatments, that would be irreversible.”
Oz defended himself by referring to the statement that Trump made when he endorsed him, which called him “Pro-Life.” As for the remarks Oz made on his own show, he said, “I do television shows, as I should, about views that need to be expressed on network television.”
He also said he had been consistent on Covid-19 policy: “How could you possibly think that I was not aggressively pushing back when I remember distinctly speaking on the Sean Hannity show about the fact that we should not keep our schools closed, and the amount of hate mail and posts that came out, that effectively tried to cancel me?”
McCormick, Oz’s toughest rival, faced attacks over his former business’ ties to China. Carla Sands, Trump’s former ambassador to Denmark, said “Dave McCormick could never have made the billions he did without bowing to the Chinese Communist Party.”
McCormick said he “served in our military for ten years fighting against the communists, I negotiated at the highest levels against the Chinese and other counties,” and that Bridgewater Associates, where he previously served as CEO, only did “2 percent of our business in China.”
At one point in the debate, conservative commentator Kathy Barnette knocked Sands, who had boasted about her time in the Trump administration, and yet was twice rejected by the former president for an endorsement.
“President Trump doesn’t always get the best advice. It’s unfortunate, but true,” Sands replied.
The candidates’ loyalty to Trump was tested throughout the night. Moderators asked whether it was time for the GOP to move forward as Trump continues to talk about the 2020 election.
Oz said he had discussed the 2020 election with Trump and that “we cannot move on.” McCormick said it was a “tragedy” that most Republican voters in Pennsylvania didn’t believe in the integrity of the election.
Sands directed viewers to a film by far-right personality Dinesh D’Souza propping up election conspiracies. Barnette said the Republican Party should “absolutely not” move past the 2020 election.
Only Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer, zeroed in on the 2022 midterms in his answer.
“Unfortunately, Joe Biden’s the president,” he said, arguing that “Americans are going to stand up with one loud voice” in November and “we are going to have historic wins.”