With the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s first year in office a few days away, Hollywood and the media are already mounting an imaginary duel between him and entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey for the 2020 presidential election cycle.
When Winfrey shared a message of solidarity against widespread sexual assault and harassment at Sunday night’s Golden Globes, a chorus of pundits, journalists, and Hollywood celebrities tweeted their support for #Oprah2020 — and gushed in excitement to TV cameras about the possibility of a “President Oprah Winfrey.”
Well-known liberal actress Meryl Streep told The Washington Post of Winfrey on Sunday night, “She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president. I don’t think she had any intention [of declaring]. But now she doesn’t have a choice.”
Reese Witherspoon gave the best campaign promise of all about Oprah, saying in her introduction to the media mogul on the Globes stage, “Oprah’s hugs could end wars, solve world peace.”
Winfrey’s longtime friend, Gayle King, co-anchor of “CBS This Morning,” revealed Tuesday morning to her colleagues that Oprah is actually “intrigued” by the idea of running for president. “There are people who have said they want to be her campaign manager, who want to quit their jobs and campaign for her.”
President Trump said on Tuesday when reporters asked about the prospect of a Trump-Winfrey matchup, “I’ll beat Oprah. Oprah would be a lot of fun. I know her very well.” He also said he didn’t think she would actually run.
Winfrey is a self-made success story. She inspires others in a way that politicians like Hillary Clinton never could. She could be a formidable candidate — but she has yet to be tested in any modern political campaign.
Her likability and America’s familiarity with her presence in their living rooms for decades easily could be diminished if she were to enter the polarizing nature of campaigns — as Trump himself discovered.
Running for office means staking out political ground, walking tightropes and, inevitably, making enemies. Lots of them. It’s a huge gamble to possibly throw away a career’s worth of goodwill and the American public’s adoration for a merciless political job, especially one for which she’s done nothing to prepare.
As much as we feel we “know” this woman, we actually know little about her specific political views.
She revealed in a Harvard University commencement speech in 2013 that she supported stronger background checks for guns, endorsed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and was a proponent of welfare programs for the poor. She also was a big supporter of former President Barack Obama. Her endorsement meant a great deal for Obama’s name as a candidate — but it also arguably had a negative impact on her career.
Her messaging in general is simple and sticks to her brand of fluffy feel-good talk.
Would she actually want the job of president, anyway? Politics can be unenviable — usually thankless and always subject to 24-hour microanalysis and online social media mobs. She will have the media on her side in a way President Trump so far does not — but the bullying of those in the spotlight is fierce on both sides. Trump has proven he can take the heat and weather the storm, but Oprah has not been tested this way. It’s easy to stand in front of a camera and talk when you’re not running for office, after all.
A presidential run no doubt would put her friends and associates into the spotlight. The American public would want to know more about her relationship with her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, as well as the dubious and controversial “experts” she’s helped make famous — Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Phil McGraw, and “The Secret” author Rhonda Byrne. Winfrey has made a fortune as one of the biggest advocates of the self-help movement — but some of her celeb friends have provided suspicious advice and trendy miracle cures along the way.
Winfrey mentioned her own painful experiences of abuse and assault on Sunday night, but questions of whether she knew about such Hollywood monsters as former friend Harvey Weinstein would need to be answered, and fast. They’re already a point of controversy for the media mogul.
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The enthusiasm from celebrities and many media types about a potential Oprah Winfrey run highlights how empty the Democrat bench has become. President Trump’s win was a wakeup call for both sides of the political aisle. Democrats who scoffed at him for his reality star history now embrace Winfrey for her media savvy and pop culture star power. Does that make any sense at all?
Democrats who scoffed at Trump for his reality star history now embrace Winfrey for her media savvy and pop culture star power.
Oprah has never seemed to have the same fire for public policy as the current president does. She dwells in the world of the influential and powerful, which has afforded her a seat at the table for wonky political chatter; but she rarely has exerted her time and energy to winning over the political world. She’s dabbled in political endorsements, donations and a sprinkling of political views — but not much more.
It is likely the Democrat Party’s wishful thinking for Winfrey to jump into the next presidential race is far more about the party’s image and its long-term electoral prospects — and much less about whether she’s actually inspired to leave her comfortable life for a gig in the White House, and what would surely be a bruising campaign.
For that reason — don’t look for #Oprah2020 to happen.
Heather Hunter is a talk-radio show producer based in the Washington, D.C., area.