Two of the leading Republican Senate candidates in Pennsylvania have embraced masks and vaccines as precautions against contracting COVID-19, with one even saying that masks shouldn’t be a “political statement” and are about “being kind.”
But that was all before they began embracing the MAGA brand and running to the far-right to nab the GOP nomination in Pennsylvania. These days, Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick are trying out outdo each other in their contempt for COVID-19 protections.
McCormick, the former CEO of hedge fund giant Bridgewater Associates, has been hammering Oz for his past support for masks.
“Mehmet Oz will read whatever script is put in front of him. There was no greater supporter of mask mandates than Oz,” he tweeted Monday, along with a video compilation of Oz previously promoting masking up.
Matt Wolking, a GOP adviser working for the McCormick campaign, also highlighted a December 2020 tweet from the celebrity doctor ― better known as “Dr. Oz” ― promoting mask usage.
That’s a very different line than what Oz is saying these days. This week, Oz was on Fox News saying the left is “forcing” mask mandates on people, even though they “don’t work.”
Oz has also spoken out against businesses mandating vaccines for employees and said that President Joe Biden’s administration misled the public about what the COVID-19 vaccine would be able to accomplish.
“I would block the ability of a private company to insist that employees have invasive procedures, which a vaccine is,” Oz told The Washington Examiner. “It should be up to the employee.”
Oz communications director Brittany Yanick said Oz stands by his belief that the “need to end mask mandates is long overdue.”
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Oz has been warning of Dr. Fauci and the medical establishment’s mismanagement by debunking false narratives and speaking out about the dangers of lockdowns and mandates,” Yanick said in a comment to HuffPost. “They politicized the science and they have flip-flopped on their mask and vaccine guidance so many times that they have not only lost the trust of the medical community, they’ve lost the trust of the American people. ... Sadly, entrenched members of our country’s medical establishment refuse to acknowledge the damage that is being done through harsh mandates that do not make us safer and they have ignored natural immunity.”
Oz, however, has made comments praising lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. In April 2020, however, he did call for schools to be reopened, saying that it might be a “trade-off some folks would consider” since it “may only cost us 2 to 3 percent in terms of total mortality.” He then apologized for those remarks after facing backlash.
McCormick, too, has blasted mandates.
“I think that the headline principle here is that the government should not be dictating individual behavior in terms of masks or vaccines or testing, and that the principle of individual freedom and individual responsibility should be what drives our policies in these cases,” he added in a March 11 interview on “The Rich Zeoli Show.”
In a Feb. 15 interview on “The Brian Kilmeade Show,” McCormick ― talking about the Super Bowl ― blasted “the absolute hypocrisy of the of these mask mandates,” which are “being put in place by officials, being put in place by elites, and then ultimately they don’t follow them themselves.”
But last year, Bridgewater mandated that its employees be vaccinated before returning to the office, and that they wear masks when they return. McCormick was CEO of the company at the time.
McCormick spokesperson Jess Szymanski distinguished between mandates imposed by government and those imposed by businesses.
“Dave is vehemently opposed to government vaccine and mask mandates and supports the rights of individuals and private companies to make decisions that best suit their unique situation. He also believes companies should work closely with their workers to accommodate their own health care decisions as best they can,” she said.
Bridgewater also tried to accommodate individual needs and preferences with COVID-19 vaccinations through a combination of testing and working from home, and other protocols that were largely successful.
Nevertheless, McCormick’s actions at Bridgewater ― and the seeming acknowledgment that there was a benefit to masks and vaccination ― is out of step with his current rhetoric.
Oz and McCormick are the front-runners in the crowded, competitive GOP Senate primary in Pennsylvania, set for May 17. Both men have shifted to the far-right during their runs.
Bloomberg Businessweek summed up McCormick’s transformation as thus: “To the astonishment of the Bridgewater crowd, he shed his smooth, Davos Man persona and transformed himself faster than Clark Kent in a phone booth into a Trump-touting, China-bashing MAGA acolyte.”
Oz’s transformation has been even more obvious, in large part because of his celebrity status and long public record in his television appearances and columns. He has shifted on everything from abortion to environmental policies as he and the other candidates in the field jockeyed to win former President Donald Trump’s favor.
On April 9, it paid off for Oz. Trump endorsed the celebrity doctor, even though many of his longtime advisers were pushing him to back McCormick. According to The Washington Post, Trump was upset about a 2021 video in which McCormick praised Joe Biden and blamed Trump for polarization in the country.
This story was updated with comment from the Oz campaign.