How much does Donald Trump’s endorsement matter these days? Judging from the most recent poll out of the Pennsylvania G.O.P. Senate race, it’s certainly not negligible: after Mehmet Oz received Trump’s backing on April 9th, he vaulted several points above his rival David “Dave” McCormick, whom he now leads 22.7 to 19.7 percent, just outside the poll’s margin of error. It’s certainly a positive sign for Team Oz, but they’re not breathing easy just yet. McCormick had been the frontrunner for months and, according to recent financial disclosures, his campaign has way, way more money to burn ($27.1 million between self-financing, fundraising, and allied super PACs) than Team Oz ($16.7 million between the same types of groups) in these final weeks of the race. The primary is May 17th—less than one month away. If you’re a media buyer in Pennsylvania, you’ll have your work cut out for you.
Even more interesting to me, however, is what the conservative backlash to Trump’s endorsement reveals about the future of MAGAdom as a political bloc. It apparently isn’t as simple as Trump anointing new brand ambassadors, as evidenced by the intense vitriol directed against Oz by America First nativists and culture warriors. Generally speaking, these fringe-ish groups have attacked Oz on a number of levels: Oz is too Turkish, too Hamptons-y, and in his previous life as a daytime television star, too sympathetic towards trans children and abortion-seekers (though he’s now publicly anti-abortion and does not believe trans men should participate in women’s sports). These attacks are indications of a long-simmering, but largely undercovered, split in the populist movement. I’ve detected it ever since Steve Bannon tried to flex his influence in the party in 2017 to some success. Indeed, there are nationalist-populists, and then there are Trump fans. The potential that Oz does pull ahead in Pennsylvania suggests that split might be alive and well in 2022. And Oz just secured the Trump fans.
Which means McCormick has a steep uphill climb if he wants to put together a coalition of Chamber of Commerce Republicans, conservatives, and those remaining non-Trump MAGAheads (early in the race, Breitbart anointed him “Full MAGA”). He hired Trump’s campaign staffers (Hope Hicks and Cliff Sims), he secured an army of endorsements from state Republican power brokers while doing the V.F.W. circuit, and, again, he has the cash to burn. There’s a possibility that McCormick can overcome the biggest problems facing him—his former remarks about China, his lack of name recognition, his lack of a Trump endorsement—but the harsh reality is that he only has four weeks to do this. “McCormick has enough personal money to win by blanketing the airwaves with ads,” a former Trump advisor involved with neither campaign told me. “But there are only a few more weeks left in the primary and that might be the ultimate indicator if he wins or loses. If the primary date was later in the summer, he’d have an even greater shot.”
Oz and his allies, buoyed by Trump, are hoping to erode McCormick’s populist credibility, essentially depriving him of that non-Trump MAGAhead constituency by chipping away at his pre-candidate life as Bridgewater’s C.E.O., and portray him as a fake Pennsylvanian who wouldn’t fit in at a gun raffle or fish fry. Of course, the manicured and coiffured TV doctor wouldn’t fit in many places outside a green room or the Short Hills Mall, but that doesn’t really matter anymore in this wacko race. “The fact is, David McCormick said he wasn’t a Trump supporter,” a Republican supporting Oz told me. “He supported Democratic congressional candidates in 2018, he supported Black Lives Matters, and praised Joe Biden and his current staff for being competent.”
This Senate primary might be the most surreal, but telling, test of which wing of the populist movement matters more. Naturally, it will be conducted with two political neophytes who have the least populist credentials imaginable: will voters go with Breitbart’s “Full MAGA” guy, or Trump’s pick? Either way, neither McCormick nor Oz should expect the party to coalesce behind Trump’s endorsement. As the former Trump advisor explained to me, the G.O.P. is locked in a schizophrenic episode. “One half is ‘Trump made a decision so we have to follow his lead.’ The other half is ‘We need to save him from his bad decision.’” And is there any sort of ideological coherence to either position? “Not necessarily. There’s no pattern.”
Tucker Carlson’s T-Count
There’s an incredible backstory to the trailer for Carlson’s Fox Nation news magazine special The End of Men, which can only be described as a 21st-century version of Sparta’s ancient gymnopaedia, the annual festival wherein Spartan men danced naked in the sun in worship of their fitness and virility. If you haven’t watched the two minute teaser, take a minute to absorb it—specifically, the second half of it, in all its Thus Spake Zarathustra glory. And if you can’t bear to watch, just imagine a visual collage of John F. Kennedy, sperm, manboobs, shirtless martial arts, and testicle tanning. Technically, it’s a movie about the pandemic of declining testosterone and sperm count. You just can’t make this shit up. See you in Canada.
Media Matters unearthed a clip from Alex Jones’s Infowars program on Monday, wherein the lawsuit-dodging conspiracy theorist revealed that Carlson’s film crew shot the trailer for the doc on his own property in Texas: the shirtless wrestlers, the men taking Joe Rogan-esque ice baths, and yes, a naked man standing on a rock irradiating his testicles. “I sent the crew out there because Tucker’s producer wanted to use a central Texas piece of property to shoot at, and so they shot some of it, and they do kind of the manly men-type deals,” Jones said, adding that he was happy to do so in the great celebration of saving men. “Western men—Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, old, young—they’re losing their sperm count. The genital sizes are shrinking.” (Earlier, Jones explained the naked man standing in front of a glowing red box: “He’s putting red light on his testicles, which will boost his testosterone. This will trigger the libtards like nothing you’ve ever seen.”)
It’s unclear how much input or awareness Carlson has over the specific production schedule of each episode on Tucker Carlson Originals, and I’m told Carlson did not see the final trailer—lib-triggering genitals and all—before it went live. The full movie is only available on Fox Nation, which, admittedly, has been more successful than CNN+. But judging from the trailer, which posits the plummeting testosterone-and-sperm count as a societal-ending “calamity,” The End of Men might be the first time I’ve seen this level of right-wing testosterone panic make its way out of the Jordan Peterson meat-eating crucible, and into the Fox News world.
Not that Fox is newly preoccupied with the concept of manliness—Sean Hannity, for instance, has long touted his proficiency in martial arts—but the right’s fixation with testosterone, specifically, is both a biological mania and a burgeoning political rallying cry. From Rep. Matt Gaetz to Trump himself, prominent fringey right-wingers have cited their “T-count” as a sign of strength, and derided their opponents’s feminization and tofu-eating ways as “soy boys,” a nod to a theory that soy products contain estrogen (and lead to moobs). So color me unsurprised that Jones, a man long concerned with testosterone who once famously screamed that the government was putting chemicals in the water that turned men and “the friggin’ frogs” into homosexuals, was more than eager to host a Tucker Carlson gynmopaedia on his ranch.
Waiting for “The Great One”
Yes, that’s how Rogan described Elon Musk last week, as he absorbed the prospect of Musk potentially buying Twitter. Carlson framed it as the Tesla billionaire “putting everything on the line” for the sake of free speech. Ben Shapiro called him “heroic.” Rep. Lauren Boebert even suggested that Musk become a candidate for the Medal of Freedom. Indeed, ever since Musk withdrew his decision to join Twitter’s board, instead angling to eat the whole damn enchilada (just because he can), I’ve never seen the whole of conservatism rush so quickly to declare anyone their new savior. Even Trump was never so well received on the right.
Over the years, I’ve had numerous conversations with conservative activists, writers and tech entrepreneurs, all of whom have spent their careers trying to find ways to assert themselves and their political ideas on social media. Every avenue, however, seems to have been exhausted: proposed legislation, such as rolling back Section 230 protections, have gone nowhere (or never work). Building a MAGA-friendly social media network is a costly endeavor with a high risk of failure. (See: Truth Social.) And given the inability for Meta and Twitter to ever give them a satisfactory solution to their complaints, the widespread belief on the right is that these Big Tech giants are the victims of left-wing “institutional capture”—always run by liberals invested in keeping them down. No wonder the thought of a romanticized, un-P.C. godlike billionaire like Musk swooping in on his rocket ship to unlock free speech —even if he doesn’t have a coherent thesis for how to do so without making Twitter unusable—is enough to make a MAGA fan swoon.