Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary may turn on how GOP voters answer one question: Is Mehmet Oz really a conservative?
When former President Donald Trump endorsed the celebrity surgeon known as “Dr. Oz,” he called the candidate “Pro-Life, very strong on Crime, the Border” and other issues. Oz, Trump said earlier this month, “will always fight for and support our under-siege Second Amendment.”
But Oz, campaigning as a “conservative outsider,” has a long history of statements on TV, radio, and in print that run counter to conservative beliefs.
He’s expressed concerns about abortion restrictions, co-bylined advice columns that called for tougher gun laws — which he now says he didn’t write — and warned about the health risks from fracking. He has urged people to wear masks and praised Dr. Anthony Fauci, now a figure of disdain on the right. In 2010, he helped promote the Affordable Care Act, but now his campaign says he’d vote to repeal the law often called Obamacare.
The question of whether Republican primary voters can trust Oz is now one of the most pivotal issues in one of the country’s most crucial Senate races. While he has fame and Trump’s support, and is one of the GOP primary’s leading candidates, Oz’s rivals hammer him as a “Hollywood liberal” masquerading as a Republican, unspooling television footage and statements to prove their point.
“A complete and total fraud,” said one recent campaign ad from Oz’s top Republican rival, former hedge fund CEO David McCormick. It was released just after the former president’s endorsement.
Even some of Trump’s most vocal supporters have questioned the former president’s pick.
Oz has distanced himself from some past statements, while echoing conservative orthodoxy about life beginning at conception and the sanctity of the Second Amendment. His campaign declined requests for an interview about his policy positions.
“He believes life begins at conception and is a proud gun owner — he always has been,” a spokesperson, Britany Yanick, wrote in response to written questions from The Inquirer. “His show covered controversial topics and having a guest discuss a side of an issue doesn’t indicate he endorses that issue.”
And Oz’s camp believes support from Trump and other prominent conservatives, like Fox News host Sean Hannity, speak to his credentials.
Polling suggests his opponents’ attacks have had an effect: Far more Republicans view him negatively than positively, according to a recent Franklin and Marshall College survey.
McCormick has also not been made available for an interview to talk policy. And Oz’s camp has pointed to McCormick’s praise of China in the early 2000s, his hedge fund’s significant investment there last year, and his past critiques of Trump to argue that it’s McCormick who is trying to rewrite his past.
But Oz has a far longer record of prominent public statements.
Mehmet Oz on abortion
Oz has long made it clear he’s a Republican. He hosted a fund-raiser for George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign and was active with the Bergen County Republican Party in North Jersey, where he lived before launching his Pennsylvania campaign.
But he often described himself as a relative moderate, akin to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“I’m not socially conservative,” Oz told the National Review of Medicine in 2008. ”I don’t believe that we should be intruding into the private lives of homosexuals and we should not be creating obstacles during the difficult time that women have when trying to terminate a pregnancy.”
Oz has long said he personally opposes abortion. But his tone on the issue turned sharply rightward when he launched his Senate bid. Speaking to an antiabortion crowd in March, he described seeing a 5-day-old child’s tiny heart beating.
“Imagine nine months earlier, terminating, killing that life,” he said. “‘Cause that’s what it is. I’m pro-life.”
He has said he is “OK with” the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. That would allow states to impose their own restrictions.
But as recently as 2019, Oz raised concerns about a near-total abortion ban in Alabama. “I’m really worried about it. I’ve taken care of a lot of women who had issues around childbirth,” he told the Breakfast Club radio show.
Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, also explained the science countering the idea that there’s a heartbeat six weeks into pregnancy, undercutting the thinking behind so-called heartbeat bills to limit abortion.
“I mean, there are electrical exchanges at six weeks but the heart’s not beating,” Oz told the show, later adding, “If you’re going to make it a litmus test, ‘Is the heart beating?’ then really make it the heart beating.”
Yanick, Oz’s spokesperson, said his comments on the radio show referred to “the terrible instances when the life of a mother is at risk,” and that he “believes life begins at conception. He is strongly pro-life, and he’s been very vocal about this for years.”
The campaign did not answer questions about whether he would support banning abortion from conception, or at some other point, such as six or 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Oz on guns
“I’ve pulled bullets from bodies. Some victims I could save, and some I could not,” Oz said in 2018 as he opened a TV segment that featured doctors calling for tougher gun laws. “All around the country, America’s doctors and nurses are rising up and saying, ‘Enough is enough, this cannot be our new reality.’ ”
A year later, he hosted two guests to talk up the value of “red-flag laws,” which allow a judge to confiscate a person’s firearms if friends or family warn that the person is a danger to themselves or others. Over an almost six-minute segment, Oz didn’t challenge the guests (including one from the conservative Heritage Foundation) who promoted the idea.
And from 2007 until early this year, Oz was listed as the lead coauthor on regular medical advice columns that sometimes called for stricter gun laws.
“Just think how many lives strict background checks and tighter automatic weapon, magazine and ammunition regulations could save without impinging on anyone’s rights,” read one 2017 piece. Another in 2019 called for reinstating the national ban on assault-style weapons.
Oz’s campaign disavowed those columns, saying that after 2009 they were written solely by Oz’s coauthor, Michael Roizen, though Oz’s name still appeared as the lead byline. His recent financial disclosures showed Oz had a contract for the column until this January.
Oz’s campaign wrote that Roizen “was supposed to clearly specify” when the doctors disagreed on issues and that “there are instances where that unfortunately did not happen.”
Neither the campaign nor Roizen, however, specified on which issues the two diverged.
On the campaign trail, Oz tells voters how he learned to hunt as a child, owns a dozen guns, and has a concealed-carry permit. In a recent opinion piece in the Sunbury Daily Item, he wrote that he would oppose red-flag laws, universal background checks, “and any gun control measure that infringes upon the Second Amendment.”
Oz on fracking
Other advice columns warned about the health risks of hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas drilling technique known as fracking.
“We wonder how eager the leaders of the natural gas industry would be to drink well water from a farm next to one of their drilling sites,” read one from 2014.
Now, Oz hands out “Free to Frack” posters at campaign events. And he has touted an endorsement from former Trump energy secretary Rick Perry, boasting about his support for Pennsylvania’s fossil fuel industry.
“Carbon dioxide, my friends, point-zero-four percent of our air. That’s not the problem,” he said at a candidate forum last month. “We cannot power this American economy with windmills.”
There are other examples of Oz’s shifting stances as he became a candidate. In December 2020, Oz posted on Facebook, “Your mask is a sign of love.”
At a campaign stop in February, however, he joked about masked restaurant workers.
”Does the virus only spread if you’re serving people, but not if you’re eating?” he asked.
He’s gone from saying Fauci is a “pro” that “I respect a lot” to calling him a “tyrant.”
And after praising some aspects of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and promoting it on a left-leaning California group’s website, Oz’s campaign said he “would not have voted for Obamacare.”
Instead, he’d vote to repeal it.