Where does Dr. Oz — and his reputation — go from here?
And then he lost. Only by four percentage points, but a loss nonetheless.
It was a rare and very public failure for a man whose life has been marked by success in many arenas. 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 with a dubious recipe for crudites — and, in Pennsylvania, for using that word.
At age 62, what will Oz do next? The campaign did not respond to requests for comment. In his concession statement, Oz offered little inkling other than, “I hope we begin the healing process as a nation soon.”
A return to surgery and teaching medicine seems unlikely. In the spring, Oz ended his long-standing ties to Columbia University, where he is now emeritus professor and special lecturer at the medical center, titles used for retired faculty members. Columbia officials declined to comment further.
Money may not be the prime motivator, though he is extremely adept at accumulating wealth. According to his campaign financial disclosure report, Oz is worth between $100 million and $422 million.
Political insiders note that Oz’s candidacy was hobbled by running on the same ticket as gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a 2020 election denier who supported abortion bans and who lost by 14 points. And there is Oz’s embrace of Trump, whose candidates performed poorly in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
Does Oz’s second act in politics have a second act? If so, where and how will he stage it? “There are certainly chances for him to be a leader in Pennsylvania if he chooses that,” said Republican media strategist Charlie Gerow.
“Oz could spend the next few years here, volunteering and becoming a part of the community to overcome that outsider identity, which more than any other factor was his biggest weakness,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
Even then, it might be difficult for Oz to overcome the preference of Pennsylvania voters for politicians whose first acts occurred in the commonwealth — no matter how much flesh-pressing, Wawa-and-Sheetz photo ops and chicken/cheesesteak/pierogi dinners the celebrity doctor is willing to stomach. The outsider status is “just hard for him to overcome,” Borick said. “If there was nobody else in line, maybe.”
But there are somebody elses in line. If Oz decides to make another Senate run in Pennsylvania in 2024, when three-term incumbent Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr.’s seat is up, he may well face a costly, lengthy rematch of this year’s GOP primary against hedge fund CEO David McCormick, whom Oz barely beat and who remains popular with Republican leadership. Here’s a thought: Could Oz try to keep his political career afloat in … New Jersey?
“It’s not impossible,” Borick said. “But you can only imagine the Democratic ads targeting him for the move.”
He could return to talk show television, which made Oz famous enough to run for office in the first place. Yet he may find the environment a bit chillier than when he decamped.
Daytime television is about mass appeal, and Oz now “has a big problem because he went all-in MAGA,” said Matthew Baum, a communications professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
“Physicians have a higher trust among Americans. He kind of threw in the towel in a big way when he became a strong partisan politician,” Baum said. “It’s kind of a fundamental violation of that trust. He crossed that line decisively.”
Oz’s views on abortion, a prime issue in the midterms among Democratic voters, may be especially alienating to would-be consumers of Oz content. “His health brand is dead,” said Red Seat Ventures partner Christopher Balfe, a media consultant who specializes in conservative outlets. “You don’t think of Mehmet Oz as a doctor. You think of him as a Republican.”
“Once you’ve outed yourself as a Republican, there’s no going back. The mainstream of daytime television is closed to him,” Balfe said. “He needs to choose a different path.”
There are, of course, precincts of American television where celebrities can lean into their politics. “One component of conservative media is older Americans,” Balfe said. “There could be some interest.”
Oz could try to become a fixture on conservative channels such as Fox News, where he has made frequent appearances on Sean Hannity’s show. “He’s obviously a compelling television personality,” Balfe said. “He could do well with a podcast.”
“I could even imagine some new venture for Oz,” Baum said. “It would not be easy to regain the trust of nonconservatives, but in the massive ecosystem of television, he could have a very lucrative career with one foot in politics, one foot in entertainment.”
For a man with Oz’s prowess at courting advertisers and audiences, there are many possible next acts. Even if they’re not set in Washington.
Once again, Oz could be everywhere.