It’s hard to imagine wanting to be a politician. Listening to people’s problems, being on your best behavior all the time (or at least working hard not to get caught), being in charge of stuff. It’s like the worst parts of adulthood on steroids. Not to mention all the campaigning — exhausted from traveling from one indistinguishable town to the next, feigning good humor, interest and delight in every person you meet and in every small diner’s Local Slop Special you’re forced to sample while telling everyone how great you are. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Yet David McCormick, candidate for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat, seems to be made for it.
Aspiring officeholders are a type. “Admirable” isn’t the right word, but remarkable, certainly. Almost every one I’ve met, with rare exceptions, is driven, crafty, contrived and insecure, to varying degrees. After a ten-minute conversation with McCormick, who’s running to fill the seat of retiring two-term Republican Senator Pat Toomey, it’s my impression the 56-year-old former hedge fund CEO has perfectly proportioned amounts of all these politician prerequisites to make him a winner.
McCormick’s main challenger is Dr. Mehmet Oz, of TV fame, who is now selling himself after selling daytime TV viewers on such laudable products as “The 3-Day Teatox to Rid Your Bloat,” and it’s hard to say which of the two is more worthy of skepticism. Oz’s pro-life track record is inconsistent, and attack ads here in Pennsylvania paint him as supportive of all kinds of liberal policies, from red flag gun confiscation to transgender therapy for children.
For his part, Oz and his supporters are working to cast McCormick as having a cozy relationship with China, alleging he invested billions there and sent American jobs overseas when he was CEO of Bridgewater Associates. I asked McCormick about this accusation, and after labeling it “a complete lie,” he said Bridgewater invests around the world. Only 2 percent of the company’s business was in China, he said, and because Bridgewater doesn’t buy companies, “there’s never been a single job that was affected in the United States by our investments.
“So, like President Trump, I ran a global business,” McCormick added. “I think that’s going to make me a much better senator…We need a tough-minded senator to really take the fight to China.”
McCormick has embraced the China allegations by making them a focal point of his campaign. He doesn’t miss a chance to criticize China (he just authored a Fox News op-ed on confronting the Chinese Communist Party “head on”), or to namedrop Trump, who reportedly had McCormick in mind for deputy secretary of defense. When I met McCormick, it was in rural Pennsylvania, where he and I agreed there are more MAGA flags (and other more extreme expressions of the sentiment) now than when Trump was in office. McCormick was eager to know what we thought of his “Let’s Go Brandon” Super Bowl ad, about which he seemed particularly jazzed.
The New York Times writes that McCormick is “trying to reinvent himself as a Trump stalwart.” He’s not alone. Oz, too, whom Trump appointed to the Presidential Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, is working to associate himself with the 45th president by pushing an “America First” agenda and using Trump’s own catchphrase “You’re fired!” in at attack ad against McCormick.
McCormick and I chatted during a stop in a town of 2,700 people, most of whom work low-wage jobs, if they work at all. I asked him how he thought his uber-wealthy background (he’s self-funding a large part of his campaign) resonates with constituents earning minimum wage, struggling to make ends meet. I also asked him what he thought rural Republicans want. Both answers basically amounted to the same: Make Americans Rich Again, like me (and Trump):
I did start from nothing. I’ve been blessed by everything our country has to offer. I served our country in the military. I feel lucky. I feel like my success is more a byproduct of the amazing country and Commonwealth I came from than anything about me, and I want to make sure that opportunity is available for other people.
And honestly, in all the years I’ve known hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania people, no one’s ever taken issue with my success. They are proud of it. People appreciate if someone’s successful. You have to be proud of it, but you have to wear that success with humility and recognize your success is a byproduct of lots of things — not just you. And that’s how I try to carry myself. I can relate to people who don’t have anything.
I’m going to step into [my experiences], and I keep pointing to President Trump, because I like the way he did that. Mitt Romney sort of stepped back from his success, Trump sort of stepped into his success and said, “Of course, that’s what we want for everybody,” and that success is what’s going to make me effective.
At the end of the day, Oz and McCormick have a lot in common: they’re both extremely wealthy, handsome, energetic, middle-aged political “carpetbaggers” trying desperately to prove how Trump-like they are to an electorate that’s still enamored with The Donald. It’s a winning strategy, and though Oz had the early lead, polls now show McCormick beating him by a substantial margin.
Among traditional conservatives, government is largely seen as a necessary evil, so the choice at the ballot box typically turns into a decision between the lesser of two evils. Is McCormick any less of a phony, power-hungry egomaniac than Oz or any other person whose personality attracts him to the political arena? It’s tough to say, but McCormick does have more going for him. He’s a West Point and Army Ranger School grad who served in the Gulf War. He also held a senior position in the George W. Bush administration’s Treasury Department.
Oz touts being a “political outsider” (again, like Trump), which is all well and good, until what you were doing outside of politics was in-depth programming on “the sex-cult nun.” There are some things you just can’t un-see, and the “Could You Be Peeing All Wrong?” segment I was forced to endure while sitting in the dentist office waiting room is all I see when one of the Oz attack ads airs. If McCormick and Oz are both hawking conservatism, McCormick looks you straight in the eye when he’s delivering his practiced talking points and is more convincing about it.
But hey, I haven’t met Oz yet. Maybe his one weird Republican trick will change my mind.