Former President Donald Trump upset some conservatives — including Fox News’ Laura Ingraham — with his surprise endorsement of Mehmet Oz on Saturday in the tight contest for the Republican nomination in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. Some of these Republicans slammed Oz as a RINO (Republican in name only) because of his less-than-right-wing views on issues like abortion and gun control.
Republican candidates’ use of religion as a tool is nothing new.
But these critics apparently don’t get what unites Trump and Oz. Both are cut from the same cloth of being coldly calculating people who are not motivated by political ideology but by what is best for their personal fortunes, be it financial, professional or political.
Oz — who, like myself, is Muslim — is the child of Turkish Muslim immigrants. Oz previously stated in a PBS interview that his very religious father “comes from the Quran Belt” of Turkey, akin to our nation’s Bible Belt. But he is apparently not troubled by Trump having made the demonization of Muslims a central part of his 2016 campaign with his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Oz’s own parents would’ve been banned from our nation if that prohibition had been in effect when they sought to immigrate here.
Oz also must not be concerned with Trump’s other inflammatory comments during that campaign, including claims that “Islam hates us” and that Muslim immigrants could actually be a “Trojan horse” hellbent on killing Americans. Trump’s campaign of bigotry resulted in a spike in bias incidents against Muslims in 2016, with a number of assaults against Muslims in the U.S. greater than that in the year of 9/11.
That history of hate apparently didn’t trouble Oz back then, when he invited Trump onto his TV show in the closing months of the 2016 presidential campaign. Nor did it stop Trump from accepting the invite to share the glowing results of a physical exam. Instead, it looks like Trump and Oz calculated that the appearance was good for both men’s fortunes in their own ways.
As we know, Trump’s peddling of anti-Muslim hate continued as president, from implementing what was in essence a limited “Muslim ban” to retweeting a fabricated video originally posted by a leader of a U.K. anti-Muslim political party that depicted a white European child allegedly being beaten up by a Muslim person, as well as other videos that were intended to demonize Muslims. A 2018 study found that Trump’s anti-Muslims tweets “were a reliable predictor of attacks on Muslims during the presidential campaign and in the months following his election,” The Daily Beast reported then.
Republican candidates use of religion as a tool is nothing new. They have long weaponized religion to help their political fortunes, from championing laws that would impose on others their religious beliefs on issues like abortion and marriage equality to demonizing Muslims, which has been a staple of the GOP for well over a decade. It’s why 2016 primary exit polls found support for Trump’s proposed total ban on all Muslims from between 60 and 80 percent of Republican voters in five states, depending on the state. Trump didn’t make the GOP base hate Muslims; it had long been marinating in anti-Muslim bigotry served up by Republican politicians.
Oz didn’t just giddily accept Trump’s endorsement; he actively pursued it.
Fast-forward to 2022. We now see Trump giving Oz, who has been vocal about his bid to become the first Muslim U.S. senator in our nation’s history, a glowing endorsement despite Trump’s history of anti-Muslim bigotry. Likely part of that decision is fueled by Trump believing Oz can win given his celebrity status, which in turn makes Trump look like a kingmaker.
Oz didn’t just giddily accept Trump’s endorsement; he actively pursued it, including frequently dining with Trump and his wife. Oz responded to Trump’s stamp of approval by stating: “I am honored to receive President Trump’s full support and endorsement, and I thank him for that.” He added, “I’m ready to bring an America First agenda to the Senate for Pennsylvania.”
Oz has to know “America First” means pushing an agenda of white supremacy; it’s also a virulently, specifically anti-Muslim agenda. If you need proof, look to the anti-Muslim bigotry being openly peddled today by Trump’s fanatical supporters in Congress like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert.
None of that matters to Oz. Nor does it matter to Trump. Calling out their hypocrisy is meaningless to them, and likely for the GOP base, as well. People in the base might very well hate Muslims, but if Trump says Oz is OK, then he is — especially since he’s a celebrity, which appears to transcend their rules of bigotry.
To those Republicans sincerely shocked that Trump would endorse Oz — who is not traditionally conservative and who served in the Turkish military, not our own, despite being born in our country, in order to retain his Turkish citizenship — you haven’t been paying attention. Trump doesn’t care what is best for the people of Pennsylvania or the nation. Trump cares about what is good for Trump. And Oz, like Trump, only cares about what is good for Oz. The two perfectly sum up today’s GOP.