From the beginning, Mehmet Oz faced an uphill battle in the Pennsylvania Senate race, carrying so much baggage that even a gold-plated endorsement from donald trump did not guarantee a victory in the primary. MAGA devotees were wary of his Hollywood background, his dithering on culture war issues and his – not entirely undeserved – reputation as a wealthy New Jersey upholsterer. And for once, these are all things that moderates worry about too. What self-respecting Pennsylvanian confuses Redner’s and Wegmans, or misspells the name of the city he supposedly lives in, or forgets how many homes he owns out of state?
But over the past few weeks, and after some constructive criticism from powerful GOP brokers at their wit’s end, Oz has slowly closed the gap between him and John Fetterman, his huge authentic Pennsylvania Democratic rival in shorts, so much so that he now only outstrips Fetterman by 2.3 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight — solidly on the fringes of a likely mini-red wave election cycle where the conservatives the candidates expect an upward rally. Republicans who were beginning to write off Oz have since rediscovered their faith. The Senate Leadership Fund, the Mitch McConnell— The aligned super PAC and associated groups funneled millions of dollars from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania in the final days of the campaign, funding a tidal wave of ads calling Fetterman soft on crime.
Tuesday night, of course, Oz took his biggest break of them all when he faced Fetterman for their first and only debate. Oz, a well-groomed veteran of daytime TV, is a smooth talker even when his political instincts fall flat. But Oz, despite getting a handful of pre-cooked performative talking points designed to neutralize Democratic attacks, didn’t need to. to win the debate as much as just letting Fetterman lose.
Fetterman, after all, had only tentatively joined the campaign trail in recent weeks after a stroke in May landed him in hospital. Prior to the debate, the Fetterman team attempted to lower expectations by posting a note noting that “Oz the Fraud” had far more television experience than Fetterman, and preparing reporters to expect “awkward pauses, missing some words, and mixing other words together” as he read a service of subtitles. And while Fetterman got a note from his doctor declaring him fit for public service, Fetterman clearly struggled with hearing issues at times and fumbled his words repeatedly. On substance, he inadequately explained his about-face from vehemently opposing fracking in 2018 to supporting it now, and, crucially, refusing to release medical records regarding his stroke.
Oz did himself a disservice by suggesting that abortion should be left to “women, doctors, [and] local political leaders,” a soundbite that the Fetterman campaign picked up to $1 million that very night. But he maintained a consistent line of attack on Fetterman’s record as Braddock mayor, as well as some talking points on the economy and crime. “I think Oz has had enough inspirational moments in this debate — taking people to a better place — to improve his favors,” a veteran political watcher from Pennsylvania told me afterwards. “He also pushed back on some things that Fetterman said that contributed to his disadvantages. That helped him, and he stuck to the policy…And you combine that with Fetterman’s performance, when voters didn’t understand at what point [his health] was – it’s a perfect storm that benefits Oz.
Media coverage thereafter was virtually universal – Fetterman, by any objective standards, did not perform well – although reactions were split among those call for sympathy for his health issues and those wondering if he should have continued running after his stroke. “I watched it with a bunch of people in a bar, almost all of them Democrats,” the Observer continued, “and the fact that they were so amazed at how bad Fetterman was is an act of despair. ‘charge. [on] the Democratic Party for being so secretive about the seriousness of his condition.
At the same time, given the intense polarization of these times, it is unclear whether the debate will ultimately move the needle in any meaningful way. “Voters will see what they want. Is it different from Herschel walker and pay for an abortion while being adamantly opposed to abortion? larry ceisler, a Philadelphia-based political consultant and Democrat, said, adding that Oz still had high negatives that didn’t seem to go away after last night. “These guys are just button pushers, we’re having a parliamentary election so voters just vote [by] party and not necessarily [for] people.”
The Tulsi Army
I followed with fascination the evolution of the former deputy Tulsi Gabbard: It takes a lot of common sense to go from one Joe Biden– endorsing the Democrat, to an apostate party accusing the ‘elitist cabal’ of embracing ‘awakening’, ‘anti-white racism’ and antagonizing Russia in ‘nuclear war’. On the one hand, of course, the world has suffered a radical transformation between 2019 and 2022, driven by the pandemic, the rise of Black Lives Matter, the insurgency and the invasion of Ukraine – events that have successfully radicalized large swathes of the US voting population, if not shaped the vision of Gabbard’s world. But on the other hand, looking at his record (and his string of Fox News appearances), it’s hardly shocking that Gabbard, a former member of an anti-gay cult and new to the American libertarian movement, finds new allies among the national conservatives.
In the months leading up to his desertion, Gabbard courted the militant libertarian wing of the GOP, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February and the Young Americans for Liberty conference in August. Matt Welchthe editor of the libertarian Raison, noted that Gabbard had always positioned herself as an iconoclast more than a Democrat, earning her a fan club on the right. “Different strains of libertarianism enjoy the type of people who say things like ‘the Democratic Party is completely controlled by an elite cabal of warmongers,'” he joked. More concretely, Gabbard has always been consistently against the war in Iraq – now practically a tenet of the NatCon ideology. Sure, she advocated for Medicare for All and a $15 federal minimum wage during her short presidential campaign, but the usual left-right political compass all but stopped working in 2015, when Trump burst onto the scene with a promise of quickly abandoned campaign to end America’s wars and provide universal health care. “Tucker [Carlson] is open not only to anti-interventionism, but also to people Liz Warren style economy,” Welch observed, giving the example of a “bi-curious” travel companion. “And Tulsi has never been centrist about it.”
So far, Gabbard hasn’t said whether she’s officially joining the Republican Party, let alone whether she’ll support Trump. On the contrary, she seems to tap into her libertarian fanbase, recently hosting Ron Paul on his new podcast, campaigning for MAGA Congressional candidates and appearing at a anti-trans youth rally with the Daily Wire. His motives are likely more personal than political, not to mention lingering presidential aspirations. Welch, a longtime observer of the libertarian world, predicted that Tulsi would be as successful as a libertarian as a Democrat, i.e., not very successful at all. “When people from the most fringe or nascent ideological and partisan groups suddenly have a Democrat who agrees with them on something, it’s really exciting for a moment,” he noted. “It’s not that anymore [rather] than having that Tulsi army ready to go.
Wake up Mr. West
Being abandoned by Adidas, CAA, Balenciaga and the law firm representing him in his divorce from Kim Kardashian didn’t stop Kanye West (aka Ye) for his recent flurry of anti-Semitic comments and conspiracy theories that has been going on for weeks. It is almost impossible to understand Ye’s intentions and interests, and it would be foolish even to try to read his mind – this afternoon, after all, he showed up unannounced outside Sketchers HQ. to try to sell them Yeezys. Even Fox News avoided making him a free speech martyr. Indeed, right now, the only prominent pseudo-mainstream right-wing pundit who protests that Ye has been “cancelled” is his friend. Candice Owens, the notorious Daily Wire arsonist who built his career trying to convince black voters to leave the Democratic Party.
“Black people [who] are ‘associated’ with Ye: NOT APPROVED”, she tweeted on Tuesday, referring to the criticism she had received for maintaining her friendship with the rapper, followed by a Tweeter suggesting that “companies can dissociate themselves from Ye but they cannot steal it”. (Adidas owns the trademark and designs for the Yeezy collection.) Owens, in particular, has a personal interest in making sure Ye keeps his money: her husband, George Farmer, is selling Parler, the pro-MAGA social media platform, to Ye for an undisclosed sum, presumably in the millions of dollars. According Forbes, the loss of the deal with Adidas cost Ye hundreds of millions of dollars and ultimately his billionaire status. (To date, he’s worth $400 million, according to Forbes.)
It’s unclear if Ye can back out of the Parler deal, or if he even has wanna to do so – again, this is Ye we’re talking about – but if he were to go all the way, Parler faces some genuinely existential issues. Ye, for his part, has demonstrated a willingness to freely launch hate speech, and it’s not a leap of the imagination to assume that the rules of his social media platform, let alone users and content published, would reflect his view of the world. I can’t imagine advertisers would want to sell ads alongside Ye’s anti-Semitic ramblings, let alone those of the neo-Nazi fans who applauded his statements. (Even Truth Social, the platform owned by donald trumphas rules against that kind of speech in its terms of service.) And of course, starting next week, Elon Musk will own Twitter – an exponentially larger platform, with a much more diverse set of users – and promise to make it the Valhalla of free speech that Parler originally promised when it launched in 2018. My Bold Prediction : when he realizes that he has a website overrun by non-monetizable white supremacist users with a smaller audience than he is used to, Ye will eventually return to Twitter… assuming Elon will have it.