Mehmet Oz, the Republican Pennsylvania Senate candidate and doctor who once educated Oprah Winfrey on poop shapes, has made some interesting strategic choices in his campaign against Democrat John Fetterman. Most famously, he posted a video to Twitter in which he tried to paint Democrats as out of touch for not caring about the skyrocketing price of “crudités.” Then he tried to defuse a controversy over his inability to clearly state how many houses he owns by suggesting on Twitter that only two of his ten residential properties count as “homes.”
Now, I am not a political strategist, but I am an expert in remembering cool Don Draper quotes, and I think there’s one that applies here: “If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.” But rather than refusing to engage and focusing on more substantive topics, Oz is trying to best his opponent in meme warfare. The results are cringey and self-sabotaging.
The latest example: When Insider asked the Oz campaign to comment on the “veggie tray” debacle, spokesperson Rachel Tripp offered this statement: “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.”
The Oz campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the strategy behind this statement. It seems “no comment” or something boring about sticking to the issues would have sufficed; instead, Oz went nasty. As a result, the candidate is facing a new round of criticism for suggesting Fetterman’s stroke is his own fault due to his poor diet.
On its own, this could be dismissed as a stray poorly worded statement. But a look back through Oz’s Twitter feed shows that he’s increasingly been mocking Fetterman as fat, sloppy, and unhealthy, while portraying himself as the picture of fitness and good health.
It’s tricky for any politician to keep campaigning against an opponent who’s had a major health crisis, as Fetterman did when he suffered a stroke in May that nearly killed him and got a pacemaker. But Oz settled on a weird attack line, repeatedly accusing Fetterman of “hiding from voters” because he spent more than a month off the campaign trail recovering following his hospitalization. In early July, Fetterman started easing his way back into things, making a surprise appearance at his campaign office and dropping in on volunteer Zoom calls. It wasn’t fast enough for the TV doctor, who dropped this video on July 15.
“You may have heard John Fetterman’s back on the campaign trail,” Oz says, while lacing up running shoes. “As a surgeon who’s performed thousands of these operations, I know how scary this can be for a patient. I’ve been praying for him. I’m glad he’s okay.”
But the second half of the video leaves the distinct impression that Oz isn’t that sincere. The cardiothoracic surgeon attacks his recuperating opponent as he jogs with half a dozen thin people, concluding, “I’m glad Fetterman’s healthy, so we can worry less about his heart and his hoodie and more about the crazy, leftist ideas in his head.”
Obviously, candidates suggesting their opponents aren’t hardy enough for office is nothing new, and health is Oz’s whole brand. He refers to himself as “Dr. Oz” in campaign videos, and his campaign uses the barely tweaked logo from his long-running TV show, The Dr. Oz Show. But his tweets and public statement have been surprisingly insensitive, especially for a doctor who has made caring for people suffering from heart issues a centerpiece of his campaign.
Throughout the summer, Oz kept a running count of how many days it had been since Fetterman had a public campaign event. Then on August 5, he launched a fake campaign site, FraudsterFetterman.com, featuring a Photoshopped image of a fat and shirtless Fetterman reclining on a couch. Fetterman is labeled a “Basement Bum,” and a “View Upcoming Events” button jumps when hovered over so you can’t click on it — get it? Stay on the site for a minute, and you’re prompted to “Text LAZY TO 26771.” Oz posted tweets plugging the site eight times at the beginning of August.
The basement imagery and “Daddy’s Boy” hoodie hanging in the photo are a reference to the fact that Fetterman’s parents were his main source of income well into his 40s, and that he lived in a $70,000 loft he purchased from his sister for $1. That’s a legitimate point to hit Fetterman on, but why the fake image of him shirtless? Similarly, it’s fine for Oz to hit Fetterman for refusing to commit to a series of debates, but why make a snide remark about his health?
The Oz team’s unnecessarily callous tone makes Fetterman’s job easy. On Tuesday night, he called out Oz’s vegetable remark as shockingly mean.
The Fetterman team also found some doctors to back him up, as The Hill reported:
On Tuesday, Fetterman’s campaign released a letter signed by over 100 Pennsylvania doctors warning against Oz’s candidacy. In an event promoting the letter, Val Arkoosh, a physician who ran in the Democratic Senate primary earlier this year, slammed Oz’s comments.
“No real doctor, or any decent human being, to be honest, would ever mock a stroke victim who is recovering from that stroke, in the way that Dr. Oz is mocking John Fetterman,” Arkoosh said.
Last week, the Washington Post’s Philip Bump, whose family lives in Pittsburgh, argued that all of the controversies circling Oz boil down to an authenticity problem: His “vibe is very much not Pennsylvanian. It’s not Jersey, either, but more what he actually is: a rich celebrity who has been in a lot of makeup chairs.” A report from Pennsylvania’s health department found that as of 2020, 27 percent of Pennsylvania adults were obese, 23 percent said they don’t exercise, and 9 percent said they don’t get the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Is the Oz campaign’s condescending attitude about Fetterman’s diet, weight, and health winning these voters over, or just solidifying his image as a celebrity who only plays a compassionate medical professional on TV?
More on mehmet oz
- John Fetterman Beats Dr. Oz and a Stroke, Flipping Pennsylvania for Democrats
- Oprah’s Unsatisfying Rejection of Dr. Oz Is Totally on Brand
- The Key Moments From the Fetterman-Oz Debate