PITTSBURGH — Less than one year after narrowly losing the Republican nomination for US Senate in Pennsylvania to celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, David McCormick is sitting in his living room pondering a provocative question:
“China has a plan for global supremacy. What’s our plan?” he said to The Post.
It’s a big theme in his new book, “Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America,” out Tuesday.
It’s a deep dive into his belief that the US is in need of renewal — what needs to happen to right the ship, especially at the intersection of technology, economics and national security.
The former CEO of Bridgewater Associates, 57, said he began writing the book even before he decided to run for office.
“The book is really about bringing together a plan to renew America — to improve our approach to education in this country, to confront China and to build our defensive capability with investing in the military and to take on the woke institutions that are in our society today,” he said.
McCormick said he finished his book in the months after a disappointing primary race that had him traveling to every corner of his home state. Along the way, he listened to what citizens think is really lacking in America right now.
“There is this thing that happens when you meet with people where they are in their communities, and listen to their stories and their concerns,” he said. “Those moments and connections guided me towards what was important to them.”
Born in Washington, Pennsylvania, McCormick is the son of two educators: His mother was a school teacher and his father the president of Bloomsburg College. He grew up in Bloomsburg and was his high school’s star linebacker.
McCormick said his dream was to go to Penn State, but his father saw something different in his son and suggested he apply to West Point.
“He said ‘You don’t have to go, just apply. You have to apply.’ And then when I got in, it was a done deal,” McCormick said.
After graduation, he went on to the 82nd Ranger School during the Gulf War, then earned a doctorate from Princeton, took a job at McKinsey and came home to Western Pennsylvania to run FreeMarkets — one of the first highly successful tech companies in the region.
He later served as George W. Bush’s Undersecretary of Treasury for International Affairs, before joining Bridgewater Associates in Connecticut.
“When I left the Army, my dad was horrified — horrified — because 15 more years and I could have had a pension,” McCormick recalled. “When I went to graduate school to be a professor and then decided I [was] never going to be a professor, he thought I was crazy. Same when I took a job at McKenzie and then eventually left.
“My family literally used to have conversations on Sunday night with my father, brother and my mom that centered on, ‘What are we going to do about David? He’s aimless. He can’t find his path.’”
McCormick said his first very public gut punch came in his forties, when he was fired as CEO at Bridgewater.
“About a year and a half after working there, the founder, Ray Dalio, said he wanted me to be the co-CEO along with another guy … I’d been a CEO at FreeMarkets. I felt like I was ready to take this on,” he said. “Eighteen months later, he decided to fire me” — in a conference room full of people.
“I was blindsided,” McCormick said.
However, he made the hard decision to stay on at the hedge fund despite losing the top job.
“I thought about quitting, but I ultimately decided I had to get things straight about what I got wrong,” he said. “So I became a road warrior — I got on the road and soon had more miles logged of any person at Bridgewater. I was ginning up business. I was the lead commercial guy. And then it started to hum.”
Two years later he was named president of Bridgewater and then eventually re-offered the top spot.
“When Dalio asked me in 2016 if I’d take the CEO job again, I did, but those years in between were tough,” McCormick said. “It taught me a huge amount of humility. It taught me a lot of empathy for others. I mean, it was a life experience that was in the newspapers. I felt embarrassed.”
There are distinct parallels between the Bridgewater incident and the gut punch McCormick said he felt when he lost to Oz by less than 900 votes — it, too, was public, everyone saw him lose and the loss blindsided him.
“I thought I had won until the moment that I conceded,” he admitted. “It was only after the recount numbers started to come in that the map didn’t work. At that moment I knew that I would concede and be gracious about it and move forward.”
Once again, he has spent the past 10 months being a road warrior, going out and listening to people in towns across Pennsylvania.
McCormick said, however, he didn’t feel a gut punch when former President Donald Trump endorsed Oz — even though McCormick’s wife, Dina Powell, had served in the Trump administration as the United States Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy.
He doesn’t blame Trump for his loss either, despite how negative Trump went on him days before the primary.
“Obviously if the former president of the United States endorses someone else and attacks you, that doesn’t help. But in terms of losing the campaign, I’m ultimately responsible for the campaign,” McCormick said. “I don’t blame anybody. I own it.”
In addition to covering all of this, McCormick’s book also looks at his experience dealing with nefarious actors like the Communist Party of China and its trade practices during his time in the Bush administration.
McCormick recalled the first time he visited China, in 1992, right after he retired from the Army. “I rode this train throughout the Chinese countryside, and at the time it was an agrarian economy and had very little urban growth the way that we know it today,” he said.
He came back 15 years later, while serving in US Department of Commerce, and saw firsthand how focused China was on stealing American technology to build their military.
“It was clear then, and then later [when] I served at the treasury, that China was getting access to the global economy, but China wasn’t giving access to US companies,” McCormick said.
“I was one of the people in the national security world that was saying, ‘Hey, let’s be careful and not give China access to these things.’ It was a warning that somewhat controversial at the time.”
In the book, McCormick also lays out a national renewal agenda centered on three ideals.
“The first principle holds that liberty is the God‐given right of each and every one of us, and its protection is the chief purpose of our government. We must not forget these truths. Conservatives, in particular, must defend them; that is, after all, what we’re struggling to conserve,” he writes.
“The second principle reaffirms that with liberty comes opportunity. America is best when all within it have their shot at the American dream … But the American dream does more than promise opportunity; it also bestows the solemn duty to preserve it,” McCormick writes. “That means we as a country must care for the people left behind by globalization and create opportunity for them and all those too long denied it. It means we must create good jobs here at home and build a more resilient economy … “
Finally, McCormick writes, “The third principle asserts that the creed of liberty and opportunity makes our nation exceptional, and that exceptionalism gives us a unique role in the world. America has misused and wasted its power in frivolous foreign expeditions, yet no other country has done so much to advance freedom or prosperity … No other country will be able to stand up to Communist China, which wants to build the world in its image … The only bulwark against that dystopia is American strength.”
McCormick is at a tipping point as to whether or he is running for Senate again.
Last year, Republicans suffered losses up and down the ballot in Pennsylvania, from the governor’s office to congressional seats to the balance of power in the state house — as well as Oz losing the US Senate race to Democrat John Fetterman.
In fact, 2022 marked the first time in several decades that two Democrats — the other being Sen. Bob Casey, who is up for reelection in 2024 — have held both US Senate seats in the state.
Fetterman, who has a heart condition and suffered a stroke last May, has struggled in his recovery. Most recently, he was hospitalized for nearly a month at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, for clinical depression — giving many to speculate that, if Fetterman decides to resign for health reasons, there could be two US Senate races in this state in 2024.
McCormick said the answer to whether he will run or not will come from people’s reaction to what he outlines in the book.
“I have found who I am through this process. I am a happy warrior. And the question is — is Pennsylvania ready for a happy warrior? Can a happy warrior win?”
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