Sean Parnell, the Trump-anointed candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, dropped out of the race a week ago after a custody hearing that featured lurid details of his relationship with his ex-wife. Laurie Snell alleged that Parnell had struck her, choked her, left her by the side of the road and hit one of their sons hard enough to leave a welt on the boy’s back. Parnell countered that she had invented all of it.
Custody battles are infamous for exaggerated accusations and heated denials, and it’s difficult for outsiders to know whom to believe and how much. But Parnell’s comments off the witness stand didn’t burnish his credibility. Appearing on Fox Nation, for example, Parnell opined, “I feel like the whole ‘happy wife, happy life’ nonsense has done nothing but raise one generation of woman tyrants after the next.” He wasn’t finished. “Now there’s an entire generation of men that don’t want to put up with the BS of a high-maintenance, narcissistic woman.” Well. Someone seems to be dealing with anger issues. The would-be – er, rather, won’t-be – senator concluded with a short sermon on biology: “From an evolutionary standpoint, it used to be, you know, women were attracted to your strength because you could defend them from dinosaurs.” Where does the GOP find these geniuses?
Well, this one was one of the crops cultivated by Fox News. Parnell served, apparently honorably, in Afghanistan and wrote a book about his war experiences, but since his discharge, he has sought advancement mostly through public speaking. Becoming famous is a stand-alone career goal these days. Parnell was Diamond and Silk with testosterone. Fox and other right-wing media elevated him. He ran once for Congress – unsuccessfully. That’s the whole resume. But Parnell caught the eye of the dauphin, Donald Trump Jr., who told Trump Sr. about him and voila, he was on his way to the U.S. Senate ... until the judge in the above-mentioned hearing awarded full custody of his three children to his ex-wife.
So, with the departure of the dinosaur slayer, the field was open for another clown. We’ll come to Dr. Oz in a moment, but first, consider Chris Sununu.
Sununu is the very popular three-term governor of New Hampshire whom Mitch McConnell had been begging to enter the Senate race in 2022. Polls had shown Sununu running 7 points ahead of sitting Sen. Maggie Hassan. But on Nov. 9, he announced that he would forgo a Senate bid in favor of running for a fourth term as New Hampshire governor. Sununu may not be your cup of tea as a leader – he isn’t mine in all respects – but he has a record. He’s for low taxes, state support for substance abusers, the death penalty, school choice, abortion rights, constitutional carry and LGBT-friendly measures such as permitting a nonbinary designation on driver’s licenses. Before running for office, he worked as an environmental engineer and then as CEO of a ski resort that employed about 700 people. All told, a serious person with a checkable resume. Unlike some other northeast Republican governors, Sununu endorsed Donald Trump for reelection.
That Sununu, a solid, substantive politician (with an asterisk for his Trump endorsement), has no interest in an easy glidepath to the United States Senate speaks volumes about the state of the national GOP.
That brings us to Dr. Mehmet Oz. Unlike Parnell, Oz has impressive professional credentials and career accomplishments. He’s a cardiothoracic surgeon and professor at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He holds degrees from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania (both the business and medical schools).
Oz could be at the pinnacle of America’s professional class – respected, well-compensated, privileged to devote his career to caring for others, and teaching rising generations to do the same.
But that wasn’t enough for Oz. He wanted to be a TV star. With a boost from Oprah, that’s what he became, and before you could say ka-ching, he was hawking “miracle” weight loss drugs. There was green coffee extract: “You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they’ve found the magic weight-loss cure for every body type.” And raspberry ketones: “the No. 1 miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.”
He also touted umckaloabo root extract as a cure for cold symptoms (it doesn’t work) and lavender soap for leg cramps (don’t bother). A 2014 study by Canadian researchers found that only 46% of the advice dispensed on “The Dr. Oz Show” was based on science. The following year, 1,000 physicians signed a letter calling upon Oz to resign from the Columbia faculty. “He’s a quack and a fake and a charlatan,” wrote Dr. Henry Miller of Stanford.
Maybe prostituting your professional credibility for fraudulent products is nothing to get too exercised about. It certainly isn’t new – though the snake oil peddled in the 19th century was at least laced with cocaine or sometimes heroin. But Oz did more than abuse the trust of his audience by selling trash; he veered into outright harm when COVID-19 arrived, advising viewers about a “self-reported” hydroxychloroquine study that showed great results. The con man didn’t bother to add that the study had not been peer-reviewed and its subjects consisted only of patients who were already near death.
Dr. Oz abuses every privilege life has handed him. He preys upon people with less knowledge and sophistication. He misleads even when it can cause harm. So, naturally, Sean Hannity is ready to help launch his political career.
Pennsylvania Republicans might have been better off with Parnell, who at least delivers his blows directly, without the smarmy deception.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast.