How interesting that Apple TV, in its big-budget film “Spirited,” a modern retelling of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” paints the Ebenezer Scrooge “Unredeemable” character, played by Ryan Reynolds, as a corrupt media and political consultant.
In our society, indeed, political consultants are viewed as the embodiment of cynicism, people prepared to do absolutely anything to win, including destroying the country with their manipulative and fraudulent values and with manufactured candidates who have ultra-divisive policies, all in order to appeal an increasingly fringe base.
Since their humiliating loss in the $222 million Pennsylvania Senate race, Republicans are finally confronting the question I was posing months ago: what went wrong with Mehmet Oz? How did America’s most famous physician, who honed his communication skills through 18 seasons on TV — first as Oprah’s doctor and then as host of his own national TV show — lose to the mayor of a city of 8,000 people, who suffered a debilitating stroke days before the primary election?
The answer given by some MAGA mega-strategists — some of whom were paid almost a million dollars by the Oz campaign — is that it was me, Rabbi Shmuley, who sank Mehmet Oz. They’re so convinced I blocked Oz from the Senate that one is suing me for more than a million dollars, wanting me to cover the loss.
Believe it or not, they’ve claimed my articles in the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Standard, the New Jersey Jewish News, and other publications caused “irreparable harm” to their reputation,” “hindered…prospective business relationships,” and were defamatory “to the point of creating a genuine threat to the peaceful existence [of] …its client.”
The political consultant in question, who functioned as a de facto campaign manager for Dr. Oz, works at the highest levels of the GOP, including for Donald Trump. Ask yourself: How does he benefit claiming that a complete political novice with a laptop with a wifi connection, and a rabbi no less, poses a “genuine threat” to a Senate campaign? Do they mean to say the fate of their candidates — and by extension, the Senate — can be swung by someone with no budget and a rabbinical degree?
Unfortunately, Oz lost by a margin so large that even his MAGA-strategists, who were utterly humiliated by his loss, can’t claim it was stolen, even as they apparently advised Dr. Oz to question the results of Trump’s 2020 election in order to receive his endorsement. Ever unwilling to accept defeat, they’re forced to shift the blame toward me and try to bankrupt me into silence.
Believe me, I’m not bragging here. Being in the crosshairs of masters of the political dark arts is pretty nerve-wracking. The idea that one of Dr. Oz’s and President Trump’s foremost advisors can take away my children’s house just because I criticized a campaign that is widely viewed as a values abomination is shocking. It contravenes the very idea of press freedoms and the First Amendment.
But those trying to threaten me face a lose/lose scenario. By trying to make me pay for condemning a campaign that included election denial, advertisements with high-caliber assault rifles, fat-shaming a stroke victim for his illness, and, worst of all, genocide denial, they only amplify the fact that a rabbi who didn’t place a single ad took down the one hundred-million dollar campaign they largely oversaw.
And how will this affect Trump, when he inevitably hears about how a rabbi is being targeted for columns he wrote condemning the Oz campaign’s refusal to condemn the “Jews-Are-Hitler” antisemitism of President Erdogan of Turkey, with whom Oz dines publicly in New York? Won’t he fear that this would compromise his own dinner with “I-love-Hitler” Kanye West?
Any Republican candidate would have to be crazy to hire a consultant who claims the nine-figure campaign they helped construct was taken down by a New Jersey cleric with an iPhone.
Mehmet confided in me many years ago that he was interested in running for office in our native New Jersey, but instead of adapting toward the brighter unifying campaign that he and I had once imagined, based firmly on universal Jewish values that Oz had always praised, Oz’s consultants dragged him deep into the pit of partisan darkness.
For his viewers and old friends like me, Oprah, and others who had worked with him at Oprah’s company Harpo, where Dr. Oz and I each hosted a daily live radio show on the Oprah and Friends network, but even for many of his former television viewers, Mehmet’s MAGA transformation was absolutely jaw-dropping. Having tried to advise Dr. Oz in the campaign’s early stages, when he was tweeting nonsense about Israel being essentially a consolation prize for the Holocaust, amid his refusal to refer to Israel as the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland, I knew the blame lay with Oz, but also with the consultants pushing him to “rile up the base,” and with one consultant who works directly with President Trump in particular.
Oz faced a very-well financed primary challenge from David McCormick, the former leader of Bridgewater, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, and it seems that the Oz campaign decided that the only hope Oz had to triumph was receiving Donald Trump’s endorsement. Did anyone working on securing that endorsement tell Oz that denying the validity of the 2020 election would make Trump more likely to choose him?
Did Oz’s consultants also warn him that even if he got Trump’s nod, which he did, should he lose in the general election, as he also did, then his denial of the 2020 race would make him toxic to nearly every mainstream media outlet and possibly destroy his entire career?
The real focus now should not be about an intimidating, disgusting, and frivolous lawsuit by one of Oz’s and Trump’s principal consultants, who is also one of the principal architects of extreme MAGA, as he tried to bankrupt a rabbi into submission, and have me shut up about what people like him are doing to America. Rather, the question really is whether Dr. Oz himself will sue this consultant for utterly eviscerating his public reputation
The internet is today abuzz with stories of how after losing one of the most consequential and winnable races of the midterms, which cost the Republicans the Senate, Dr. Oz cannot even get his calls to his former TV producers returned. Not because he’s a loser. But because of the toxic campaign that these consultants, especially the one suing me, had him run.
The Washington Post published a column called, “Where Does Dr. Oz — and his reputation — go from here?” The column said: “Oz had left a lucrative television career, renowned medical practice and his North Jersey manse, and invested $27 million of his own wealth in the campaign, only to be relentlessly mocked online as an interloper.”
Oz has become toxic not just to the likes of CNN and MSNBC, but even to right-wing media. As the Wrap reported, “At least for now, Oz’s voice may not be welcomed with open arms by the right-wing media community.”
“The last thing conservatives want to hear right now is Dr. Oz giving political advice,” Joe Concha said. “I think there is some resentment that he lost such a winnable race. He should have beat [Fetterman] by three touchdowns. I’m not sure a lot of people want to be hearing from Dr. Oz after losing what would have been — if he won that, Republicans could have taken over the Senate.”
In the end, Oz’s consultants held a sway over him with which even I, a friend of Mehmet’s for some 13 years, could not compete. As I pushed Dr. Oz to run a values-based campaign that we had discussed for years and inspire America with a message of unity and magnanimity, the consultant now suing me told him the exact opposite. His essential argument: Shmuley is a novice. He has no idea how to win a campaign. You have to tack to the extreme right during the Republican primary, run around like Rambo with an assault rifle, and then go back to the center for the general.
But the days of this utterly cynical strategy, which fosters fraudulence and assumes American voters are bumpkins who cannot remember a candidate’s policies from one day to the other, are over, as Dr. Oz’s devastating loss demonstrates. As a values commentator on America, I had every right to speak my mind and distance myself from a campaign that had become a national disgrace. Indeed, the disastrous campaign seemingly inflicted by political advisers on Dr. Oz is so complete that Mehmet has barely been heard from since his loss last month, disappearing almost entirely from social media.
My break with Mehmet Oz and my criticism of his campaign are not why he lost. But his campaign probably failed for the same reason that my faith in him did. America is desperate for leaders who lead from in front, not from behind. They are tired of the lunacy of the two political extremes and they are returning to a simple demand that candidates show character.
Ultimately, I saw what Pennsylvanians did — a man and his hard-earned reputation being soiled by consultants contemptuous enough of the public to believe the way to win us over is by waving guns, election-denying, and holding rallies with Marjorie Taylor Greene. Consultants with enough contempt for the American people to, I’m guessing, tell Dr. Oz that to win a primary you have to tack MAGA hard-right, and for the general election, you have to put the brains back in your head and run as a moderate. “But won’t the American people remember that just a few months ago I was denying the 2020 election on national TV?” No, they would have said. Fear not. The American people are idiots. They’re too busy browsing Instagram and devouring TikTok to ever really focus on a race. And that contempt that the consultants offered Oz is what sank him.
Which brings us to the hard truth: Oz paid his consultants an absolute fortune for allegedly bad advice that cost him not only the race, but possibly his chances of ever returning to TV. Ironically, Mehmet Oz could have just embraced his own nobler ideals and it wouldn’t have cost him a thing.
As Trump stands alone on the presidential ticket, the poor performance of his candidates in key swing states like Pennsylvania and Georgia are still under the spotlight. Trump’s bizarre and outrageous dinner with Kanye West — which I responded to in an open letter demanding that Trump immediately repudiate his meeting with America’s most vicious antisemites lest he irrevocably lose Jewish support — has further dialed up the pressure. At this critical crossroads, Trump should make sure he isn’t paying for whatever bad advice Oz was getting.
Instead of trying to silence, intimidate, and bankrupt critics like me, MAGA strategists need to adapt to the fact that America is not a nation of extremists or fools, and that pandering to extreme members of any base will never work for that quiet yet sane majority of Americans.
For now, the consultant who is suing me will force me to spend a fortune defending myself so that others can watch and never criticize him or the other MAGA consultants again. Having received their expanded complaint only last week, we asked them even for just a small extension of time as, this week, I am the speaker to hundreds of Jewish students in Berlin at an annual conference, and the week after that is Chanukah. To date, this consultant, who is Jewish, has not even agreed to this.
If running football stars and TV doctors did nothing to widen his political tent, perhaps it’s time for Trump to consider dropping the divisiveness — along with certain political consultants.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood is the author of “Holocaust Holiday: One
Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell.” Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.