Mehmet Oz’s Donald Trump-backed bid to become a senator for Pennsylvania has become a waterfall of unforced errors.
His campaign recently issued this remarkable statement to Insider about his Democratic opponent: “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.”
It’s a shockingly cruel statement about Fetterman, who has been recovering from a stroke he had in May and only recently returned to the campaign trail.
But what also stands out about it is how it draws attention to Oz’s most salient weakness in his race, which is a seemingly unending series of stories about how out of touch he is with ordinary people in his state. A politician striving as desperately as Oz to obscure his multimillion-dollar wealth and look like an everyman will not win over voters — especially Republican ones — by finger-wagging at someone for not eating enough healthy vegetables.
In an age where an openly cruel billionaire real estate mogul was recently able to convince tens of millions of Americans that he could be a voice for the everyman, one could argue that this moment shouldn’t be a liability for Oz. But Trump’s affect and his successful positioning as an anti-establishment rhetorician was convincing to his base. Oz, who is constantly being attacked as an ideologically shape-shifting carpetbagger from New Jersey and suffers from a Republican enthusiasm problem, seems less likely to pull off the same trick.
Fetterman is striving to address what he described as neglected heart problems. That puts him in relatable territory: Nearly half of all American adults have some kind of cardiovascular disease, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in America.
Oz, a celebrity doctor, is of course aware of the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and the vulnerability of many of his own constituents to serious health incidents like strokes. But for some reason, his campaign decided it was best to sound unempathetic about it and perhaps implicitly make a jab at Fetterman’s large physique. (Incidentally, over 100 Pennsylvania doctors have recently condemned Oz over his promotion of unscientific, fringe and what they called “potentially dangerous” treatments as a doctor on television.)
Amazingly, this unforced error was Oz’s attempt to fire back at Fetterman for mocking a previous unforced error from Oz. Oz made a video earlier in the year trying to draw attention to inflation, but the video went viral because he referred to a veggie tray as “crudité” and accidentally mixed up the names of two grocery stores as he shopped around. Oz’s use of a French term and his apparent unfamiliarity with the grocery store underscored the trope of him as a snobby elite pretending to understand what the life of ordinary citizens is like.
Recently, Oz also tried to evade questions about how much property he owns, only to eventually admit, as reporters have pointed out using public records, that he owns 10 properties — almost all of them outside of the state where he’s running for Senate. When Fetterman pointed this out online, Oz chose to tell him to “get off the couch.”
Trump showed that it’s possible for an ultra-wealthy person to persuade a significant chunk of working-class voters that he understands their grievances and can be their champion. That doesn’t mean his playbook can be replicated. Among other things, he came across as relatable (and entertaining) through his through taboo-breaking and assaults on political correctness, and his opponent in 2016 typified the political establishment. Oz doesn’t have Trump’s irreverance and is up against someone who has the optics of being an outsider on his side. Given Oz’s fall in the polls, he may want to rethink how his haughtiness comes across to voters.