After a fiery speech at the Golden Globes, S.E. Cupp and Barack Obama’s 2012 Iowa State Director weigh in on the showbiz legend’s odds against President Trump; Winfrey says political office isn’t in her DNA
They think she’s Donald Trump plus plus.
The political pundit class is abuzz with speculation about a potential 2020 presidential bid by Oprah Winfrey after the TV host, actress and entrepreneur’s acclaimed speech at the Golden Globes earlier this month, where she won an lifetime award. The chatter is nothing new but it took on a new intensity after Winfrey’s romantic partner and two friends subsequently suggested that she would consider a bid.
The likes of Meryl Streep and Disney chairman Alan Horn also sounded enthusiastic. “I want her to run for president. I don’t think she had any intention…but now she doesn’t have a choice,” Streep told the Washington Post. And Brad Anderson, Barack Obama’s Iowa campaign chair during his successful 2012 reelection bid, even tweeted that he had some power brokers in the early primary state eager to chat with her.
For her part, Winfrey told InStyle magazine in a cover story that running for President isn’t in her plans. “It’s not something that interests me. I don’t have the DNA for it,” she says— though hardly in a Shermanesque way.
The 63-year-old’s selling point: she has many of the incumbent Republican president’s strengths, and then some. (While Winfrey has kept her personal politics closely held for much of her career, she previously supported Democrats Barack Obama, who awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, and Hillary Clinton.) “Anyone who runs against Trump will have to match his ability to get and keep attention,” says conservative commentator S.E. Cupp, host of HLN’s “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” and a longtime proponent of #Oprah2020. “For someone like Elizabeth Warren [the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts] to think she can compete with Trump’s ability to hog the spotlight is a fool’s errand. On that level, only Oprah can.”
For its part, Trump has said that he would beat Winfrey in a potential run-off, but running against her would be a “lot of fun. I like Oprah. I don’t think she’s gonna run”
— S.E. Cupp (@secupp) January 8, 2018
If Americans decide to go for a celebrity CEO candidate again, Winfrey could prove an even bigger draw. While POTUS often claims to be a self-made billionaire, he inherited significant wealth from his real estate investor father. By contrast, Winfrey grew up poor and a victim of child abuse before building a fortune that Forbes values at $2.8 billion. Rhetorically, “she’s uplifting and inspirational while he is very embittered and divisive,” says Cupp, adding that this could help fend off the inevitable attack ads trying to paint her as a Hollywood liberal. “She’s been in everyone’s living room…people feel intimately connected to her.”
As even the President previously said: “She knows how to win.”
Oprah will end up doing just fine with her network–she knows how to win. @Oprah
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 5, 2012
So who is her base? Some think Winfrey offers Democrats the best chance of rebuilding the much vaunted Obama coalition of young voters, women and people of color that Hillary Clinton failed to reconstruct. Past research by David Jackson, a political science professor at Bowling Green State University suggests that Winfrey’s political endorsements help among African American voters— though not necessarily with other demographics. That said, white working class people “watch her TV shows and her movies. It’s not just African Americans in her target market,” he says. “Her advance team would hardly to have to do any work anywhere she goes. People want to experience her charisma.”
“The question is if Democrats will want a bold progressive right on all the issues, or someone who’s a healer and can bring people together,” says Anderson, noting that Winfrey’s profile fits the latter. “My guess is that by 2020, voters are going to be exhausted by all the fighting and name calling.”
— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) September 28, 2017
Trump’s weaknesses also negate many of Winfrey’s potential flaws. While celebrity CEOs who’ve never held elected office rarely gain serious traction in national elections, Trump became the first commander-in-chief who’d never previously been in the military or government. Winfrey’s policy positions are largely unknown, but she does have one piece of legislation— the National Children Protection Act of 1993, or the Oprah Winfrey Act— nicknamed after her thanks to her fierce lobbying for its enactment. The law, which passed with bipartisan support, strengthens protections against child abuse, a cause Winfrey has long championed.
That said, it’s still extremely early in the election cycle and even if Winfrey should run, the crucible of American electoral politics could throw a yet-unknown spanner in the works. Another big obstacle would be giving up the comfortable life of a media mogul for one of a candidate in the wintry Northeast or Midwest, where the decisive early primaries take place.
“Don’t just fly into Des Moines but spend time in rural Iowa… towns that have been hit hard by manufacturing challenges and get to know what people’s problems really are. That would make her a better candidate,” says Anderson. “You’re going to have to reach into living rooms and do soup suppers and things one-on-one that allow people to get a sense of who you are. Running in Iowa is a lot of work and a complete lifestyle change.”
This story was updated on January 26, 2018 with news of Winfrey’s comments to InStyle magazine.
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