Barack Obama might be onto something when he reminds voters, as he did this week in Philadelphia, that running for president isn’t reality television.
Judging by Donald Trump’s appearance Thursday on The Dr. Oz Show it’s alternative reality television, untethered to fact-based everyday life.
Their discussion was ostensibly focused on the state of the 70-year-old candidate’s health—he’d be the oldest person ever to take the oath of office next January—but actually it was free political advertising on a popular syndicated daytime program that allowed Trump to take unchallenged shots at Hillary Clinton and President Obama while boasting about his golf game and spouting unsubstantiated sales pitches concerning his plans to make America great again.
“As a doctor I’m always focused on the person directly in front of me,” Oz began after Trump, his suit jacket open over his spreading belly and his blue-and-white striped tie dangling down to his testosterone area, swaggered his way across the polished studio floor to the white armchair reserved for him. “So I think we should agree that we’re not gonna discuss Secretary Clinton. Is that OK?”
“I think it’s fine,” Trump replied, and added, in a gloomy tone, while composing his jowly visage into an expression of profound sympathy, “We want her to get well.”
Not only had Trump violated Oz’s simple request mere seconds after agreeing to it, he managed to sound one of his principal campaign themes—that his 68-year-old opponent is too frail and lacks the “stamina” to be president—while shamelessly exploiting Sunday’s incident in which Clinton admitted she had pneumonia after cell phone video caught her nearly collapsing as she left a 9/11 memorial event.
Dr. Oz either was unaware of what had just happened or pretended not to notice it. But Trump’s nasty jab, cloaked in concern, reminded me of President Ronald Reagan wickedly joking during the 1988 campaign, “I’m not going to pick on an invalid,” when reporters sought his reaction to made-up rumors that Vice President George Bush’s opponent, Michael Dukakis, had been treated for depression.
In another instance of going negative—which this time prompted a rueful grin and a raised eyebrow from the good doctor—Trump was talking about his paltry exercise regimen and how the rigors of campaigning are depriving him of his favorite recreational pastime.
“I don’t play much golf though lately,” he lamented. “We have a president who plays so much golf he could be on the PGA tour.”
In his hour-long sit-down with Oz, Trump was joined for a couple of segments by his telegenic daughter Ivanka, the political superego to Daddy’s id as well as his very visible campaign wife since his current spouse, Melania, vanished from the public eye after that little plagiarism mishap at the Republican convention.
The tall, blond Ivanka—looking, as always, fabulous, this time in a purple dress—spoke in perfectly formed, statistic-laden paragraphs about her father’s just-released child care program (the candidate nodded sagely, as though he actually understood what she was saying), and, when Dr. Oz asked Trump if he regretted making offensive remarks about women, argued that the very idea that her dad would do such a thing was “a false narrative.”
Trump, meanwhile, claimed that he was simply the victim of lies promoted in millions of dollars worth of negative ads.
At this point, Megyn Kelly was needed, but Dr. Oz was at a loss to offer even the slightest pushback.
“I view this, in a way, of going to see my doctor,” Trump told the alternative reality show host, who asked a series of doctor-like questions which the candidate answered with claims that he had never suffered from any illnesses ever, except for seasonal hay fever and a one-night stay in the hospital for an appendectomy when he was 11 years old.
For some reason, Dr. Oz didn’t ask about the yellow stuff on his head.
Then, of course, came the much-hyped moment when Trump pulled out from his jacket pocket the written report from his most recent physical examination, conducted last Friday by his now-famous, much put-upon family physician, the hippy-haired gastroenterologist, Harold Bornstein.
Bornstein—who bizarrely predicted, in a hurriedly scrawled letter that was instantly released by the Trump campaign, that his patient “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency”—this time stuck to numbers, indicating the candidate’s low cholesterol and blood pressure, good liver function, normal cardiogram, healthy prostate, and unproblematic results from a colonoscopy two years ago.
The Dr. Oz Show periodically cut to audience members’ reactions—a majority of whom seemed to be wildly grinning blond ladies—as the good doctor recited the figures.
“Testosterone is 441,” Oz announced admiringly at one point. “441 actually is good,” he added.
Trump, who famously bragged during a Republican primary debate about his penis size while denying that he has tiny hands, responded with an aw-shucks grin and a “can-you-believe-it?” head shake.
Dr. Oz also recited from Bornstein’s stats that Trump is 6-foot-3 and weighs 236 pounds. I’m no doctor, but I’m around the same height, and while my own weight is none of your business, that seems a tad light to me.
The reality TV billionaire turned nominee amply demonstrated the communications and performance skills that, according to recent polls, have only increased his proximity to the Oval Office.
He also showed that he might know more about how to do politics in 2016 than his battle-tested campaign manager, Washington pollster Kellyanne Conway.
During a visit to Fox News on Wednesday morning, as her candidate was getting ready to tape his Dr. Oz appearance, Conway declared that he wouldn’t be releasing his medical stats in front of a studio audience—apparently believing, incorrectly, that there are certain proper ways of doing things.
“On a TV show? I don’t think that he should,” Conway insisted, as the man she is trying to get into the White House was preparing to do just that.
And what of Mehmet Oz, a respected thoracic surgeon and faculty member of the Columbia University Medical School? It almost seemed, at times, that Trump, his metaphorical scalpel at the ready, had put him on the operating table with plenty of anesthetic. (Of course, Dr. Oz has been the subject of much criticism about his own work and beliefs himself.)
Apparently woozy, the good doctor didn’t bother to challenge the candidate when he asked Trump what he would replace Obamacare with, and the candidate went on and on about how great, wonderful, and cheap his new healthcare plan would be, without offering a single specific.
At one point, Dr. Oz did try to pin Trump down on whether he would authorize medical treatment for an undocumented alien, and the candidate skated away, claiming that no such person could exist in this nation in the event of a Trump presidency.
“But I won’t get involved in politics,” Trump said cutely.
“You’ve been so good,” Dr. Oz agreed.
A Turkish American who grew up in a Muslim household, Dr. Oz didn’t see fit to ask about Trump’s plans to ban his coreligionists from entering the United States.
Matt Lauer’s questioning of Trump during last week’s “Commander in Chief Forum” was a merciless grilling compared to Dr. Oz’s hot stone massage.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill—a Clinton supporter who famously smacked Oz during June 2014 congressional for shilling for bogus weight-loss products—was not far off the mark Thursday when she said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe: “Talk about two snake oil salesman!… I think it’s a marriage made in heaven.”