GREENSBURG, Pa. — Former President Donald Trump spent a soggy Friday evening rally avoiding mentioning the topic of abortion, and instead promoting election conspiracy theories and pitching a skeptical crowd on his pick for Pennsylvania’s Senate race.
A consistent, all-day rain turned the Westmoreland Fairgrounds outside Pittsburgh into a muddy pit, but many braved the weather for the event with Trump and Dr. Mehmet Oz, whom he has endorsed in a competitive Senate primary to fill the seat of Sen. Pat Toomey, who is retiring.
“Dr. Oz, I’ve known him a long time,” Trump said of the cardiothoracic surgeon and former daytime TV host. “His show is great. He’s on that screen, he’s in the bedrooms of all those women telling them good and bad, and they love him. He came into a place where we had a lot of women sitting there waiting for something unrelated, they started going crazy, ‘Is that Dr. Oz?’”
The crowd gave Oz a mixed reaction when Trump mentioned him during his remarks, but the Senate candidate had received an even cooler reception earlier in the day. Hours before Trump took the stage, the attendees waiting in line at security booed an Oz video package, with some breaking into a “McCormick” chant, a reference to David McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO who is Oz’s chief competitor for the GOP nomination.
A number of Trump supporters said they were still deciding whom to vote for in the May 17 primary and questioning why Trump had gone with Oz. They also said they were wondering why he hadn’t made an endorsement in the crowded field for Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race. Nearly all of the merchandise available outside the gates was for Trump, with one tent offering Oz yard signs.
A running theme of the evening from Trump and from many of the speakers who preceded him was falsely stating that the 2020 presidential election was stolen in Pennsylvania, a state that Joe Biden won by 80,000 votes. Those who arrived early in the afternoon were able to watch a screening of the new movie by the conservative Dinesh D’Souza, which claims to prove there was election fraud in the 2020 election based on what the Associated Press called a “flawed analysis of cellphone location data and ballot drop box surveillance footage.” Both D’Souza and Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, who is facing lawsuits for defamation associated with his efforts to overturn the election results, spoke at the rally.
Oz has raised concerns about the 2020 results since he earned Trump’s endorsement, saying last week, “I have discussed it with President Trump, and we cannot move on. … We have to be serious about what happened in 2020, and we won’t be able to address that until we can really look under the hood.”
While Trump told stories about the legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, mused on Oscar ratings and inspired a “Lock Her Up” chant as he took credit for coining the moniker “Crooked Hillary,” he did not mention the leaking of a draft ruling this week, which made it seem likely that the Supreme Court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade and cut off abortion access for millions. His only allusion to the subject was in saying that the three justices he nominated to the bench had a big decision pending. In the leaked draft, those three justices, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, all voted to roll back abortion access.
Trump had originally endorsed Sean Parnell in the race, but Parnell dropped out last year after allegations of domestic abuse against him by his wife arose in a custody case. Among the speakers at Friday’s rally was J.D. Vance, the venture capitalist and author who won the Republican Senate primary in Ohio earlier this week. Securing Trump’s endorsement is considered a key reason why Vance emerged from a crowded field in a hotly contested race.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a choice. Are we going to have a Republican Party for the donors, for the special interests, or are we going to have a Republican Party for the people?” said Vance, in his remarks urging the crowd to support Oz. Vance's own campaign received over $10 million in support from the tech billionaire Peter Thiel.
Oz’s main rival in polling and fundraising thus far is McCormick, who moved to Pennsylvania to run for the seat. (Oz moved across the border from New Jersey, and has been accused of carpetbagging by other Republicans in the race.) McCormick also courted Trump’s endorsement and was backed by Parnell. Trump’s decision to go with Oz did not sit well with some of the former president’s supporters.
In his remarks, Trump described McCormick as a “liberal Wall Street Republican” and said, “He fought hard for [the endorsement], he wanted it, he hired almost every person that worked — if anyone was within 200 miles of me, he hired them. But he did want my endorsement very badly, but I just couldn’t do it.”
Oz and McCormick have met in a formal debate setting twice since Trump endorsed him. At their first matchup last week, Oz touted the endorsement as a defense against every attack his opponent leveled against him. He used it more sparingly earlier this week in the second forum, eventually raising it when discussing a series of ads that McCormick has been running calling him a fake conservative, or a RINO — “Republican In Name Only.” Both men have spent millions of their own money on the race.
“Trump endorsed me because he knew that these ads were as vicious towards me and untrue, as they were against him, because they were delivered by people who are scared of what we represent, which is telling the truth and pushing back hard,” Oz said, calling McCormick “Desperate Dave,” in an attempt at a Trumpian nickname.
Oz and the other candidates on the stage — commentator Kathy Barnette, real estate investor and GOP fundraiser Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands, a Trump-appointed former ambassador to Denmark — attacked McCormick on his company’s ties to China.
Oz has been criticized for changing his position on abortion, his opponents pointing to remarks he made in 2019 saying that he had “big-time concern” about strict laws limiting when women can receive the procedure.
McCormick has also focused on Oz’s dual citizenship with Turkey and the military service he served in Turkey, calling him “compromised” at Wednesday’s debate. In March, Oz told Yahoo News that he maintained the dual citizenship in order to care for his mother and would renounce it if he were to be elected to the Senate. Oz has said that he has never been involved in Turkish politics, but ABC News published a report earlier this week that included a photo of him casting a ballot in the 2018 Turkish presidential election.
On Friday morning, hours before Oz took the stage with the former president, McCormick’s campaign held a call with Mike Pompeo, who served as Trump’s CIA director and secretary of state. Pompeo, who endorsed McCormick in February, laid out his “significant national security concerns” about Oz and called for further information about his ties to the country. Oz’s campaign has called the attacks “pathetic and xenophobic.”
Whoever prevails in the Republican primary is likely to face Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who has consistently maintained a double-digit lead in the Democratic primary. The race is considered a toss-up and the Democrats’ best chance at picking up a Republican seat in the 50-50 Senate this fall.