It’s simply not true that moral decay is the sole preserve of the Republican Party or that it’s all the fault of a divisive Donald Trump. President Obama, while a good and decent man, gave America the Iran deal, one of the most ethically abominable American policies of the last century. How else to explain why the United States decided to fund a regime that proudly publicly hangs dissidents, openly tortures women to death for not wearing a head scarf, and used the lifting of American sanctions to continue to build a nuclear program that may yet be used Armageddon-style against Israel, the United States, or both? President Biden deserves enormous credit for refusing to make the concessions that Iran is demanding to re-enter the deal, and for seeing Iran for what it is, a government of monstrous brutality.
What is true is that the presidency of Donald Trump, and especially its ending — a refusal to concede a fair election that was declared legitimate by scores of judges Trump himself appointed, as well as his own attorney general, William Barr, followed by a violent assault on the Capitol — opened the floodgates for many lunatics to enter the GOP, run for office, deny American democracy, and even win.
We need not look only at the pathological lies of George Santos as an embarrassment to the GOP — and especially the Republican Jewish Coalition, which repeatedly held prestigious events for Santos without so much as vetting him — as a demonstration of the clown show the GOP risks becoming. The rise to national prominence of antisemites like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who says that Biden is Hitler, is a demonstration that the Republican party seems to be tripping dangerously on acid.
Besides its impact on America, this matters to me deeply and personally.
I became a Republican around 2003, when George W. Bush — a deeply moral man whose brilliance as a military strategist did not match his ethical convictions — decided that Saddam Hussein no longer should rule Iraq. Saddam, according to the New York Times, had killed more than 1.1 million people and was easily the bloodiest mass murderer since Hitler and Stalin. Weapons of mass destruction, it turned out, was a complete myth, but what was real was that the most powerful nation on earth had a responsibility — especially after the Holocaust — to terminate his leadership and save millions of innocent Muslim lives from further poison gas.
And yes, I’m aware that the United States fought the war heroically yet catastrophically, as a consequence, in strong isolation mode, with Biden having blown the exit from Afghanistan terribly. But my point is that the GOP stood for real values, including economically where it believed in raising people out of poverty through education and entrepreneurship rather than undue governmental interference, and a defined border that would prevent human trafficking and a fentanyl war of narco terrorists spilling over into the United States.
But all that is in the past.
Today’s GOP is filled with political consultants and operatives who run the party and advise candidates that the only way to appeal to the base is through election denial, military-style assault rifles, and battering an opponent with no appeal to decency.
Last year I had a first-hand seat at how those running for the GOP nomination in state races are being influenced to join the lunatic asylum in order to win.
Rare is the occasion when a candidate as qualified as “America’s doctor,” Mehmet Oz, decides to run for elective office. A world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, a devoted husband and loving father — made famous by the most influential woman in America, Oprah — throws his hat into the ring. Dr. Oz, the son of Turkish immigrants, is self-made, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and had one of the most watched national TV shows in the country. His inspirational story captured the very essence of the American dream. What could possibly go wrong?
But that’s before the GOP consultants that he hired made him the laughingstock of America.
From the very beginning I, as a friend and unofficial advisor, was battling top GOP operatives, hired by Oz, as they pushed him to cater to the most extreme fringes of the party. I witnessed the transformation of a deeply educated man into a bully and a fanatic, all, so his advisers claimed, in the glorious pursuit of victory.
Chief among them was Larry Weitzner of Jamestown Associates. Dr Oz and I had for many years discussed his running for statewide office in our mutual home, New Jersey, only to discover that in subsequent conversations with Larry and other consultants, Dr. Oz was suddenly running as an interloper in Pennsylvania, something for which he would be repeatedly and savagely mocked.
When I protested that Oz was coming across as an insincere, right-wing nut, Weitzner shot back, “We made [Oz] into a winner.” When I asked why Oz should follow instead of lead, Weitzner answered, “He will be a leader when elected.” Darkly foreshadowing the cynical post-primary pivot to the center he was helping cook up for Oz, Larry told me, after I complained that my friend Dr. Oz had become utterly unrecognizable, Oz “will be very recognizable soon,” an all-too-familiar comment by a political operative who assumes American voters are idiots, with an eight-week memory, who will forget that a candidate tacked extreme right for a primary but returned to normal for the general election.
Then Oz repudiated all claims to being a caring physician. Dr. Oz’s campaign said blatantly that his opponent John Fetterman wouldn’t have had a stroke “if he he’d ever eaten a vegetable in his life.” Horrified, I reminded Weitzner that my father had died of a stroke. But he defended the campaign’s right to denigrate a stroke victim, writing back, “Did your father lie about it and try to run for Senate after?” When I expressed shock at America’s best-known doctor jamming a magazine into what looked like an AK-47 for a campaign commercial, especially around the time of the Uvalde massacre, Weitzner’s almost comical response was that I had got the name of the rifle wrong. It was not an AR-15.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Few decried the fraud being made of Mehmet Oz as clearly as George Bochetto, a longtime GOP operative in Pennsylvania who ran against Oz for the Republican Senate nomination and repeatedly savaged the fraud Oz had become. Bochetto was ruthless in his condemnations of the candidacy that people like Weitzner had cooked up for Oz. Although Ronald Reagan in 1966 famously formulated his 11th commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” Bochetto evidently felt so sickened by the Oz campaign that he launched StopMehmetOz.Com and decried Oz for having “lived in PA for TWO minutes,” excoriating him for “selling magic beans to little old ladies.”
Oz was, according to Bochetto, a “liberal” and “a Hollywood elite … phony who supports government mandates and dances with Michelle Obama!” But not content with calling Dr. Oz a fraud, Bochetto went further and apparently called him an outright liar. On January 12, Whyy.org reported, “Bochetto, a Philadelphia lawyer who has lived in the city for 45 years, suggested that his out-of-state rivals shouldn’t bother spending millions to try to convince voters they really are Pennsylvanians. ‘They should be honest about it and just flat out say, “‘Look, I haven’t lived in Pennsylvania and I’m not a citizen of Pennsylvania, but I’m coming in because there’s a provision in the Constitution that allows me to do so,’” Bochetto said in an interview. And that’s fine. But why lie to me?”
That he was accurate about what Weitzner and other advisers had made of Oz did not mean that George Bochetto couldn’t be accused of precisely the same thing. No stranger to fringe politics, in a GOP primary debate last year, Bochetto engaged in extreme election denial, declaring of Democrats and mail-in ballots, “They harvested those votes, they falsified those votes, they steered the election.” As with all election deniers, he provided not a shred of evidence — although he is an attorney. One of his truly execrable campaign billboards even featured him wearing boxing gloves while punching the letters “AOC.” Yes, a prominent GOP attorney was punching the name of a progressive Congresswoman. That’ll teach ’em, George!
And yet even an Oz opponent as radical as Bochetto was struck by the decadent fraudulence of the political campaign, and one can only assume the advice, being given to Mehmet Oz.
Earlier this month, the New York Times ran a feature on Elise Stefanik, who, as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, once had the courage to publicly condemn Trump’s unacceptable “locker-room banter” captured in the notorious Access Hollywood tape as “inappropriate, offensive” and “just wrong.” Privately, she even called Trump a “whack job.” But by 2021, she was proclaiming herself “ultra-MAGA” and crying out about irregularities in the 2020 election — something Dr. Oz would later do — which she even voted to decertify in Pennsylvania. When Republican House candidate Carl Paladino, whom Stefanik endorsed, called Hitler “the kind of leader we need today,” Stefanik not only refused to rescind her endorsement but scolded reporters for taking his words “out of context.”
Really? How could Hitler being the leader we need today possibly be taken in context?
In all likelihood, she’s probably getting the same awful advice Dr. Oz seemingly received from operatives like Weitzner, namely, that in the world of Republican primaries, Trump’s platform must be swallowed whole, especially if one wishes to receive his coveted endorsement.
In allegedly refashioning Dr. Oz into an assault-rifle carrying, election-denying fanatic, Weitzner wrote to me on May 2, 2022, “When you have 35 million being spent attacking you for being a Hollywood liberal who loves Hillary, Oprah, and Obama, who supports abortion, Obamacare and wants do take your guns away, you have to figure out a winning strategy which we did.”
Dr. Oz would go on to lose in one of the most embarrassing defeats in modern Senate history, a drubbing that eviscerated Dr. Oz’s national reputation as America’s doctor and exposed him to ridicule that may cost him his entire television career. Dr. Oz’s campaign since has been derided by both left and right as a national humiliation, and I would not be surprised if at some point Oz made the decision to sue campaign advisers like Weitzner and others for professional malpractice.
Watch this space.
One way or another, Dr. Oz seems to have embraced a cottage industry that supposedly helps candidates score an endorsement from Trump, even at the expense of their convictions and souls. And although 2020 wasn’t exactly the year to be a Trump endorsee, novices like Dr. Oz pursued the Trump endorsement with gusto.
Let me be clear. As a Jew who loves Israel, I will forever be indebted to President Trump for his incomparable and unprecedented support of the Jewish state, which included moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, taking the United States out of the dangerous and disastrous Iran nuclear deal, and American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. But there is a big difference between gratitude and loyalty, the former a reflection of thanks for actions past and the latter a demand for as-yet-to-be-determined policies of the future. I cannot and will not ever support Trump’s false claims of election fraud, which is a direct assault on the foundations of American democracy.
If the GOP is to return to its former credibility, let alone winning ways, it will have to repudiate the kind of extremist, election-denying ways being embodied by operatives like Weitzner and the catastrophic, mean-spirited, assault-rifle-glorifying, and genocide denial positions that nuked Dr. Oz’s image and campaign.
We need new GOP candidates who tell their operatives that even losing an election is preferable to winning and becoming another George Santos.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of is the author of “Judaism for Everyone” and “The Israel Warrior.” Follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.