On Saturday, former President Donald Trump endorsed surgeon and former television personality Mehmet Oz in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania’s open US Senate seat. The endorsement is a challenge for Oz’s top Republican rival, former hedge fund chief executive David McCormick, who had also reportedly sought Trump’s backing.
McCormick’s campaign has now released a television attack ad that claims Oz is actually “ANTI TRUMP.” But the ad takes an Oz remark out of context to falsely portray the comment as some sort of attack on the former President.
As the words “ANTI TRUMP” appear on the screen, the McCormick ad shows a clip of Oz on camera saying, “And we haven’t had any interaction with President Trump at all.”
Facts First: Oz wasn’t expressing opposition to Trump when he said, “And we haven’t had any interaction with President Trump at all.” During a guest appearance on a late-night talk show in 2019, Oz was asked about his experiences on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition and if he had “tried to convince Trump to start eating better.” During his response, Oz said the council hasn’t had any interaction with Trump. That was a statement of fact – one in which Oz avoided criticizing Trump’s diet – not an anti-Trump attack.
When fellow guest Padma Lakshmi followed up by saying Trump “doesn’t seem interested in eating well,” Oz did say, “Yeah, I’m not sure that’s a major focus.” Even that, though, would be weak sauce as the basis for a claim that Oz is “ANTI TRUMP.” And regardless, it isn’t in the ad.
Asked for comment on Tuesday about the McCormick campaign’s claim that Oz is anti-Trump, Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich said, “I think the President’s endorsement speaks for itself.” Trump said in his endorsement statement that Oz is “very strong” on a variety of issues and “has always been popular, respected, and smart.”
Oz campaign says McCormick is ‘lying’
The McCormick ad uses additional short clips of Oz to justify other attacks. The words “PRO OBAMA” appear on screen, for example, over a clip of Oz discussing obesity with then-first lady Michelle Obama on his health and wellness television show in 2012. But the ad does not include any quotes in which Oz expresses political support for former President Barack Obama or his administration.
Oz campaign spokesperson Brittany Yanick said in an email on Tuesday that McCormick is “resorting to lying about Dr. Oz’s record with these selectively edited clips.” Yanick said Oz “welcomed open, honest conversations and opinions from everyone who appeared on his show – that does not mean he shares the same beliefs and opinions as everyone on his show.”
Trump, who has himself appeared on Oz’s show, appointed Oz to the sports, fitness and nutrition council in 2018. President Joe Biden pushed Oz off the council this year, following the Republican’s entry into the Senate race, citing an administration policy against federal candidates serving on presidential boards.
The McCormick campaign’s response
McCormick campaign spokesperson Jess Szymanski defended the new ad in a Tuesday email, arguing that Oz’s 2019 comment “criticized Trump for not being active with the council” on sports, fitness and nutrition. But again, Oz’s comment about the council not having any interaction with Trump did not appear to be criticism. Rather, it was an explanation about why he had not pestered Trump to eat healthier.
Szymanski also noted that Oz said in this same 2019 response that he had wanted to be on the sports, fitness and nutrition council “no matter who was president”; she argued that Oz was “obviously trying to distance himself from Trump” here. But that’s very much debatable. Oz noted in that interview that he had his own health foundation that worked to help teenagers, before adding: “So I’m passionate about kids’ education. When Dwight Eisenhower and then President Kennedy and every president since created the council, it was to get kids active and eating well. So, I wanted to be on that council no matter who was president.”
Szymanski said the larger point is that Oz has a record of criticizing Trump. She sent CNN documents that listed a smattering of Oz’s comments over the years. These included his 2020 remarks about Trump’s admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he had publicly downplayed the danger of Covid-19 (Oz said this downplaying created a “credibility gap”) and Oz’s assertion on his show in 2016 that Trump had “disparaged” journalist Megyn Kelly after the first Republican presidential primary debate in 2015 (that was, again, a statement of fact; Trump did disparage Kelly).
Regardless of how persuasive anyone finds these examples and the others listed in the McCormick campaign’s research files, the McCormick campaign chose not to use them in the ad. Instead, the campaign went after Oz by highlighting a comment that just wasn’t what the ad suggests.