Pompeo vs. Trump: Is Dr. Oz too close to Turkey and Erdogan?

Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

I thought having Trump on one side and Ted Cruz and the Club for Growth on the other in the Ohio Senate primary would be the spiciest MAGA-vs-MAGA action of the primary campaign. Nope.

Today in Pennsylvania, his own secretary of state went after his chosen candidate, Mehmet Oz, on the very day that Trump is set to hold his first rally for Oz in Greensburg.

Oz’s campaign complained this afternoon that this attack from Mike Pompeo and his candidate, Dave McCormick, is xenophobic. A little bit, yeah. It would be weirder than weird for a Trump-backed candidate running in a competitive primary to become the first Muslim U.S. senator after Trump made a splash in 2015 by calling for a global ban on Muslims entering the U.S., but it’s anyone’s guess how many Pennsylvania Republicans even know Oz is Muslim. To most Americans he’s just the celebrity doctor from TV. He’s not “foreign,” he’s famous!

He’s a dual citizen of Turkey and the U.S., Pompeo reminded them in a press conference this morning.

The former secretary of State, who served under Trump, said McCormick is a “patriot,” unlike Oz, whom Pompeo accused of having ties to the Turkish government…

“We criticize American candidates all the time because they didn’t vote,” Pompeo said. “This is different from that. Not only did he not engage in the American [process] but he engaged in the Turkish political process. That raises in my mind a lot of judgments about his priority.”…

“Maybe it’s all innocent, maybe it’s all straight up, but we and the people of Pennsylvania and the Americans who he will be representing as one of the 100 members of the United States Senate voting on important national security matters need to understand the scope and depth of his relationship with the Turkish government,” Pompeo said.

Oz’s spokesman called the attack “pathetic” and no different from bigoted attacks on Jews and Catholics, something McCormick and Pompeo must have felt obliged to stoop to after Oz landed Trump’s endorsement. Maybe so. As background, Oz served in the Turkish military as a young man and voted in the Turkish election in 2018 while not voting in his local Republican primary a few days earlier, according to Pompeo. That’s what he meant when he accused him in the excerpt of engaging in the Turkish political process, a counter to Oz’s claim that he’s “never been politically involved in Turkey in any capacity.”

None of this seems alarming. But I remember doing a double take back in March when Oz was pressed by reporters on his dual citizenship and gave this surreal answer:

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz said today that he would forego certain security clearances that are provided to all U.S. Senators to keep his dual citizenship with Turkey…

When asked about his dual citizenship with the United States and Turkey, Oz explained that he keeps his Turkish citizenship to care for his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. When queried what he would do if this would disqualify him from security clearances, Oz agreed that he would forego them in this situation, noting “I can love my country and love my mom.”

How do you do the job of a United States senator if you can’t attend classified briefings? How would he think for even five seconds that that was a suitable answer?

I don’t fault him for putting his family first but in that case he’s in the wrong line of work. The obvious solution is to give up his dream of serving in office so that he can tend to his mother without any conflicts of interest or travel hassles resulting from having to forfeit his Turkish citizenship.

Oz later reversed himself, by the way. When it was pointed out to him that his proposal was unacceptable and that he’d need to choose between his Turkish citizenship and his mother on the one hand and his ability to properly fulfill his duties as a senator on the other, he said oh, okay, no problem, he’ll give up his Turkish citizenship if elected. Huh.

People accuse him of not being a true Republican but placing his political ambitions above all other concerns, including his mother’s welfare, feels very “Trump-era Republican” to me. No wonder Trump likes him.

Not everyone agrees, of course:

Some of his old statements about COVID precautions also seem distinctly un-MAGA:

Between his dual citizenship, his various squishy policy stances, his decidedly non-populist persona, and even his ties to China, Oz is a strange, strange fit for a Trump endorsement. He’s a celebrity; that’s pretty much all there is to it. Despite his fame, money, and Trump endorsement, he’s currently sitting at just 18 percent in the polls, two points ahead of McCormick. Trump’s going to try to do for him what he did for J.D. Vance in Ohio, converting a figure with tepid support into a reasonably solid favorite among Republican voters. But Vance at least knew how to talk like a nationalist. With Oz, Trump’s basically just asking Pennsylvania’s Republican voters to do him a solid by nominating the guy.

Here’s a recent ad from a lefty PAC that anticipated the arguments that Pompeo made today. If you’re looking for reasons to believe Pompeo might jump into the 2024 race and challenge Trump, going all-in for McCormick against Oz is a possible clue about his intentions. Exit question: Since when does Mike Pompeo have a problem with figures beholden to Turkey serving in the U.S. government? He worked in the same cabinet as one!