While Washington Examiner columnist Salena Zito’s reporting has generated some controversy, she is known as an authoritative interpreter of Donald Trump’s appeal to culturally conservative, Rust Belt, white working-and-middle-class voters — who, she famously explained, take their outlandish leader “seriously, but not literally.” So it’s not a good sign for Trump that Zito has penned a long seething column about the backlash to his endorsement of Mehmet Oz for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat. Zito reports that many Trump supporters in the Keystone State are furious — not just at the former president’s choice of candidate but at how he explained it in a breezy statement over the weekend. She writes:
“President Trump was very out of sync in picking Oz,” said Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County Republican Party. “I’d like to know who it is who lives in Pennsylvania that knows the voters well told Trump to pick Oz.”
… Ball says he fielded calls all day from conservatives unhappy with the former president’s decision. They complained about the reasons Trump gave — noting his celebrity status, Harvard credentials, New York Times bestseller status, and praise Oz had for the former president’s health. “People have been calling me all day and asking, ‘What the hell was he thinking?’”
You see, Trump praised Oz for many of the qualities that make his own fans dislike the TV doctor.
Oz’s top rival, David McCormick, is a wealthy Wall Street hedge-fund exec, but, unlike Oz, he at least grew up in Pennsylvania. He has also advertised himself as a MAGA enthusiast and gone to the trouble of surrounding himself with Trump-world notables including Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Robert Lighthizer. McCormick was endorsed by Sean Parnell — Trump’s initial pick in the race before allegations of domestic violence and the loss of a child-custody fight forced him to drop out. Parnell’s comment on the Oz endorsement was typical of the general blowback: “I’m disappointed by this. Oz is the antithesis of everything that made Trump the best president of my lifetime.”
This reaction certainly wasn’t confined to Pennsylvania — as illustrated by this comment from Breitbart News columnist Joel Pollak:
The big question is how Pennsylvania Republican-primary voters will react, and we won’t know that until fresh polling arrives. McCormick barely led Oz in the latest public survey of “very likely” Republican voters with 18 percent support to the doctor’s 17 percent, but the Emerson College–The Hill poll was taken a few days prior to the Trump endorsement.
The controversy over the Oz endorsement adds to the shaky status of Trump’s interventions in major 2022 Republican primaries. Trump has already withdrawn one U.S. Senate endorsement, that of Alabama representative Mo Brooks, falsely accusing his January 6 wingman of becoming “woke” about his stolen-election claims (in reality, Brooks has run a bad campaign and was looking like a loser in recent polls). Georgia, one of the most active theaters in Trump’s effort to show his dominance over Republican voters, is looking bad as well. Governor Brian Kemp is steadily leading Trump recruit and former U.S. senator David Perdue in polls and fundraising. Meanwhile, Jody Hice, a sitting representative Trump talked into purging Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, is trailing the incumbent and likely to face a runoff. There’s also grumbling among Trump supporters in North Carolina and Tennessee about the former president’s endorsement of U.S. House candidates who, like Dr. Oz, have no real connection to the places they want to represent.
Does Trump’s endorsement record even matter in terms of his present grip on the GOP or his (possible) plan for a presidential comeback? He did, after all, stumble badly in a 2017 Alabama U.S. Senate special election (endorsing losing candidates in the primary, the runoff, and the general election) without any noticeable impact on his popularity among Republicans. Well, at the very least, it seems to matter to Trump himself. He is fiercely defensive about his win-loss record and the value of his support and is investing a lot of time and energy into these surrogate battles. Trump’s endorsement fixation is ensuring that his endorsements do, indeed, reflect on his reputation.
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