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Oz campaign goes 'dark' as candidate struggles to deal with trolling

Pennsylvania's GOP Senate nominee can't handle the jabs from his Democratic opponent, John Fetterman, so he's going rogue.


The “Dr. Oz” brand was already tarnished before Mehmet Oz launched his Senate campaign in Pennsylvania last November. Years of criticism for spouting dubious medical advice on TV will do that.

But just months out from the midterm elections, we are witnessing the complete breakdown of Oz. The man is coming apart at the seams. Whatever remained of the image he manicured, of a caring health expert you’d welcome into your home every day, has dissolved and given way to another persona. 

Enter: Dark Dr. Oz. 

Lately, the “Dark Brandon” meme has been shared online as an ironic take on President Joe Biden’s persona. It’s a funny way of making Biden — who’s kind yet milquetoast — look like a menacing, formidable figure while touting his progressive accomplishments. 

“Dark Dr. Oz” is Oz's alternate persona, except, unlike the Dark Brandon meme, this guy is real.

Photo illustration: Mehmet Oz with beaming red eyes.
MSNBC / Getty Images

Dark Dr. Oz opposes free elections. He insults people’s health problems. He mocks their financial condition. And he insults their clothing. Let us count the ways. 

As a candidate, Oz has fed into former President Donald Trump’s baseless lies about 2020 election fraud, which surely helped him secure Trump's endorsement this year. And as if that weren’t bad enough, he’s adopted Trump’s strategy of aiming deeply personal barbs at his nemeses. 

To be transparent here: The Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, and his supporters have seemingly memed the Oz campaign into oblivion, occasionally with jabs about Oz’s allegedly residing in New Jersey or about the numerous homes he owns. But Oz and his team’s responses to those and other barbs have had a lil’ extra sauce on them, depicting a man thrashing about as he drowns in a sea of negative press. 

Responding to a recent Fetterman quip about a roundly mocked campaign video of Oz buying ingredients for a crudité (read: veggie plate), an Oz staffer mocked Fetterman’s recent stroke

“If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke,” Rachel Tripp, a senior communications adviser to Oz, told Insider

Fetterman condemned the remark in a tweet. Oz had yet to personally address it as of Wednesday afternoon. And it’s hard to imagine this helping Oz in the Pennsylvania race, especially with recent polling showing him trailing Fetterman by a wide margin. But Dark Dr. Oz doesn’t care: He’s all in on his heel turn. 

Last week, after Fetterman criticized Oz for downplaying the number of houses he owns, an angry Oz accused Fetterman of “liv[ing] off your parents until you were almost 50.” The insult seemed to be a reference to financial help Fetterman received from his parents while he was mayor of Braddock, a job that reportedly paid $150 a month.

Before that attack, the Oz campaign released an attack ad mocking Fetterman for frequently wearing a hoodie and depicting a bong coming out of his head (a clear reference to Fetterman’s support for legalizing weed). That ad, too, was widely panned after Oz shared it on social media

As my colleague Hayes Brown said in an MSNBC Daily post about Fetterman’s trolling, "It’s clear that the efforts are rattling Oz, whose team has tried (and failed) to duplicate Fetterman’s online success."

But Oz isn’t built for this kind of battle. Instead of keeping things light and deftly responding to Fetterman’s jokes and jabs, he’s leaning into crotchety sniping. Dark Dr. Oz has arrived.