Greensburg, Pa. – As the music welcoming Dr. Mehmet Oz to the stage stopped on Friday night, boons from a section of the crowd of dying Donald Trump supporters became more audible.
Oz responded by trying to butter the crowd with one of his favorite partisan lines about President Joe Biden.
“I love you guys, Pennsylvania!” he declared. “I love that you’re out in the rain in Westmoreland, and I know why you’re excited: Because the only thing Joe Biden has made better is the Republican Party. Do I have it right?”
The audience, who were mainly present to hear Trump speak, reacted with light applause.
The only thing worse than the welcome Oz received was bad weather at the Westmoreland County Fairgrounds. Hours of torrential downpour turned the dirt under the feet of Trump fans into ankle-deep mud, forcing rallyers to take refuge in the grandstands.
By the time Trump came to speak more than an hour after Oz, the crowd proved more receptive to his pitch. Trump also welcomed Oz back on stage to address the crowd with him.
But the central tension of the evening had already been exposed.
Months after the attacks by Oz’s GOP rival Dave McCormick, a hedge fund manager with an endless array of deep-pocketed allies, some Pennsylvania Republican primary voters are wary of Oz’s conservative authenticity, not least on social issues like guns. and not on the right to abortion. , Oz, a heart surgeon and television personality who moved from New Jersey to his wife’s parents’ hometown of suburban Philadelphia to run, previously voiced support for gun control and abortion rights which he now denies.
Timothy Lohr, a Westmoreland County truck driver, shouted “Rino,” an acronym for “Republican in name only,” when Oz appeared on a video screen before the speech began.
“I think that’s Hollywood,” Lohr told HuffPost. “It’s just my opinion. I don’t like Hollywood.”
Other attendees said they were open to Oz, but only because Trump was endorsing him.
“In his past, he spent a lot of time with the Left,” said Dave Popola, a machinist in the coal industry. “He was hanging out with Obama too much, and Obama tanked the coal industry for the first time.”
Is Trump able to assuage the concerns of his more ideological voters about Oz by personally pledging his commitment to Trump’s “America First” wing of the Republican Party, perhaps in an unprecedented way with his own supporters? Will test Trump’s influence together.
In the middle of a deceptive speech that lasted nearly 90 minutes, Trump did his best to convince his followers that Oz was a more effective successor to his nationalist presidency than McCormick. Oz has dubbed McCormick a “Beijing Dave” because of his investment in a hedge fund. made in China, Trump amplified those criticisms.
“So I don’t know David very well and he may be a good guy, but he ain’t MAGA, he ain’t MAGA,” Trump said, using the acronym for his slogan “Make America Great Again.” . “I know he was with a company that managed money for communist China, and that he is a candidate for the complete special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment.”
Trump combined the attacks on McCormick with standard-issue praise for Oz’s policy commitments, which looked like they could be just about any Republican support for Trump.
“As your senator, Oz will fight to end illegal immigration, end sanctuary cities, and put dangerous criminals behind bars,” Trump said. “That is what he wants to do. He is going to stop the Democrats, the Socialists and the Communists, and will face China like no senator in the history of our state.”
At the same time, the real reason Trump supported Oz, a former TV star, was his respect for Oz’s career on camera.
“I’ve known him for a long time. He’s on that screen,” Trump said. “He’s in all those women’s bedrooms, telling them the good and the bad. And they love him. ,
Indeed, as a fellow TV celebrity looking to enter politics, Trump faced similar doubts over his history of licentious habits and liberal stances on social issues. During the 2016 GOP presidential primary, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) famously blasted Trump’s “New York values.”
But Trump began burning his right-wing credentials years ago as a champion of the “Berther” conspiracy theory about then-President Barack Obama.
Asked why he’s concerned about Oz’s Hollywood associations, but not Trump’s, Mike Dugan, a Walmart worker at the rally, replied, “[Trump]convinced me that he was not a big liberal.”
Still, among the rally’s many younger and less ideological attendees, Trump’s word was enough to secure Oz’s support.
“Anyone who supports Trump, I will support,” said Cody Lusebrink, a plumber.
Amanda McNamee, a business operations specialist and Lucebrink’s girlfriend, agreed. She also said it was “comfortable” to hear Oz’s condemnation of what she considers excessive COVID-19-related public health policies, as she is a physician.
If Oz wins the GOP primary in Pennsylvania on May 17, it will be another big win for Trump after a big win in neighboring Ohio. J.D. Vance’s endorsement of Trump in the Ohio Republican Senate primary helped Vance, a former vocal critic of Trump, secure the nomination on Tuesday.
Vance joined Oz and Trump at the rally on Friday and announced that he was backing Oz, both because of Oz’s commitment to take on China and because of the impact of Oz’s victory, which Vance characterized as the Republican Civil War. .
“It’s not about Dr. Oz,” Vance said. “It’s not about anything other than you and Donald Trump.”
A subset of elite Republicans are “trying to make it so that Trump-backed candidates lose because when they do, the fake news media will say, ‘Well, supporting Donald Trump doesn’t matter,'” he said.