If Oprah Winfrey is ever elected president of the United States, here is one person she should thank: Donald Trump.
Occasional rumors of her potential interest in a White House run have ballooned into a frenzy of speculation following her appearance at Sunday’s Golden Globe awards. In his opening monologue, host Seth Meyers suggested an Oprah candidacy, and sure enough, the former talk show host and sometime actress gave an impassioned speech that some saw as dipping her toe into the political waters. Reports soon followed that the media mogul is indeed “actively thinking” about challenging Trump in 2020. Four years ago, the prospect of President Winfrey would have brought even the most imaginative political strategist to laughter, but in Trump’s America, it’s no longer so easy to dismiss the possibility.
So POLITICO Magazine asked political operatives on both sides of the aisle to tell us: Would Democrats be smart to nominate Oprah in 2020? Could she actually win? Their reactions, tellingly, do not fall along partisan lines. Here’s what the pundits think. —Taylor Gee
‘She should consider running’
Jim Messina was campaign manager for Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.
She should consider running. Both President Obama and President Trump won in part by being perceived as non-typical candidates who could change politics. She has a brand that is all about inclusion, bringing people together and aspiration. To beat Trump in 2020, Democrats will need a candidate who can unite the party, stand up to Trump’s attacks, and rise above petty politics. No question Oprah could be one of those candidates, if she wants to run.
‘She’s more sensible on economic than Sanders, understands Middle America better than Warren’
Bill Kristol is editor at large of the Weekly Standard.
Sure, she should run. She’s more sensible on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands Middle America better than Elizabeth Warren, is younger than Joe Biden and nicer than Andrew Cuomo. And every Democrat who’s won the presidency in this century has come from Chicago.
‘People will take her seriously not because she is a celebrity but because of who she is’
Jesse Ferguson is a Democratic strategist and former Clinton campaign official.
We Democrats don’t need our own celebrity to win in 2020. That’s refighting the last war. We need someone genuine, honest and authentic who really cares about people and can wrestle control of Washington away from those who have seized power. And, that person might be Oprah Winfrey.
People will take her seriously not because she is a celebrity but because of who she is—because she’s genuinely a self-made success story and because she’s made a career out of helping other people. When you think of the best of what is possible in America, you think of stories like Oprah’s.
There are a number of great Democrats who are thinking about running, and many of them could be antidotes to Trumpism. Oprah certainly is one. In a lot of ways, she is authentically everything Trump pretends be—successful, self-made, generous, charitable, beloved, etc. Regardless of whether she decides to run or not (and I’m skeptical she will), she’s a compelling alternative voice to the tweets of our the Very-Stable-Genius-in-Chief.
‘For Democrats, what’s not to love?’
Rick Wilson is a Florida-based Republican strategist.
It’s still an open question as to whether Oprah is a good candidate, but it turns out she’s outstanding at trolling. This probably wasn’t the blow Trump’s already delicate mental state needed. Oprah is vastly more popular with the American people, she has made more money, she has built businesses that haven’t consistently gone bankrupt, and she is better on television. For Democrats, what’s not to love?
‘I love her, but no.’
Sophia Nelson is author of E Pluribus One: Reclaiming Our Founders’ Vision for a United America.
I love Oprah. I shared a stage with Oprah at the Maya Angelou Stamp unveiling in April 2015, and I thought her speech on Sunday night was amazing. Powerful. Inspirational. But I do not want Oprah to be president of the United States, and for the same reasons I did not want Donald Trump to be president. It’s the most powerful job on Earth! Trump was not ready, nor was he qualified, and look at what we have endured the past year: inexperience, poor judgment, scandal, crazy tweets. Oprah would certainly not be Trump, and she would have a better attitude, but she is not ready to be president either. Governor of California maybe, or a U.S. senator, perhaps. An ambassador, certainly. All great pre-qualifications for the presidency. But as of today she has neither the experience, nor I suspect the desire, to jump into the arena that ripped Hillary Clinton to shreds for more than 25 years. And Hillary was hands-down qualified and prepared to govern.
I was worried this would happen when Trump won. Now every celebrity in Hollywood or rich businessman now thinks they can be president. The Rock wants to run. Mark Cuban wants to run. Now Oprah? No! The human ego is not the proper place for the American presidency. I love Oprah—love her!—but she is not ready or qualified to be the leader of the free world. There are many women who are. Senators on both sides of the political spectrum. Women governors. Congresswomen. Ambassadors. But Oprah? Sorry, but no.
‘There are just too many uncertainties for Democrats to jump blindly on an Oprah bandwagon’
Bill Scher is contributing editor to Politico Magazine and co-host of the Bloggingheads.tv show “The DMZ.”
As the author of “The Serious Case For Oprah 2020,” you might think I’d simply say “yes.” But just because there is a case for it doesn’t mean it’s a slam-dunk case.
In favor of an Oprah nomination is the Trump model: As much as it might offend the sensibilities of some Democrats, celebrity and wealth are seen by many voters as proof of accomplishment and credibility. Oprah is literally the richest black female in the world, and the only African-American woman billionaire. Trump will not be able to demean her business acumen or her television prowess, and those are his two most important metrics for judging people.
But is 2020 the right year for an Oprah candidacy? After four years of a norm-breaking, anxiety-inducing reality TV show presidency, 2020 voters may crave what 1920 voters demanded: a “Back to Normalcy” candidate, which they got with Warren Harding. Bland, technocratic experience may be the coin of realm in 2020, and if so, the timing would not be right for Oprah.
Most importantly, she is simply untested in the political crucible. What does she have to say about Yemen? Global trade? Financial regulation? Democrats who want to skewer Trump as in over his head won’t easily accept a nominee who is similarly submerged. Does she vet? Has she said anything in her 40 years on television that would rankle modern ears? Her philanthropic efforts are more sincere than Trump’s, but have they been fully scrubbed for improprieties? And how would she handle the inevitable Republican barrage? She can’t coast on her name for two years, especially against a brawler like Trump; she’ll have to show she can both take a punch and return fire.
There are just too many uncertainties for Democrats to jump blindly on an Oprah bandwagon. She may well prove capable, but she will have to prove it.
‘She would be a very formidable candidate’
Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the House.
She would be a very formidable candidate.
‘Is Oprah too much like Trump?’
Jeff Greenfield is a five-time Emmy-winning network television analyst and author.
There’s a much-cited, though non-scientific “rule” in presidential politics that voters tend to pick someone unlike the occupant of the Oval Office as a successor. So, is Oprah too much like Trump—a TV celebrity with no experience in government—or his opposite—civil, a healer, empathetic, attentive to the marginalized? I am old school enough to find a Trump-Oprah contest something that sounds like a satirical take from 25 years ago. But there’d be something poetically just if a figure who smashed every rule about how to win the White House wound up blazing a path for his conqueror.
‘This only shows Democrats’ weakness’
Scottie Nell Hughes is a political strategist and former surrogate for the Trump campaign.
The excitement in the Democratic Party during the last 24 hours over Oprah only shows the weakness of their current roster of legislators and governors. Oprah does bring excitement and engagement to their platform, which Democrats lacked in 2016, but will that same excitement still be present once her stance on key issues is known? That is yet to be determined.
‘It isn’t clear that she has the interest, energy, or commitment to run’
Douglas Schoen is a pollster and former adviser to President Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Democrats need a candidate other than Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren if they are going to beat Donald Trump and the Republicans in 2020.
Sanders and Warren are too left-wing, too old, and too traditional to beat someone who, despite low approval ratings, has a strong and compelling argument to make. The Democrats’ best rival to Trump would be someone outside the mainstream of Washington-based professional politicians. Whether that is Oprah, time will tell.
As compelling as her speech was last night, it isn’t clear she has the interest, energy or commitment to run for the nation's highest office. That being said, my immediate reaction to the current field of potential Democratic candidates is the old adage, “That dog don’t hunt.”
‘The left wing base is desperate for leadership’
Ron Bonjean is a Republican strategist and partner at ROKK Solutions.
The hype around the possibility of an Oprah candidacy truly demonstrates that a civil war is brewing within the Democratic Party and that the left-wing base is desperate for leadership. Many of their current leaders are old and out of touch, still smarting from their crushing 2016 defeat, and are scrambling to figure out how to become relevant again in this populist era of politics. The base of the party would love to have someone like Oprah take on President Trump.
Republicans do have the fundamentals on their side of a growing economy, low unemployment, successfully taking on ISIS and now a tax-reform plan that has been signed into law. And America is still a long way off from the 2020 elections. Speculation around an Oprah candidacy will only continue to grow louder unless Democratic leaders can do something about it.
‘Celebrity, by itself, should be neither a reason to nominate someone nor to dismiss them’
Michael Kazin is professor of history at Georgetown University and editor of Dissent magazine.
The Democrats would be smart to nominate a woman or man who can speak with authority and in inspiring ways about creating a more egalitarian economy, provide good health care to all Americans, combat climate change, ensure that every citizen over 18 is able to vote, protect the rights and dignity of women and racial minorities and the LGBT community, and move away from militaristic approaches to foreign policy. Oh—and that man or woman should also be an excellent judge of character and of the mood of the electorate, and be willing to work hard as hell at the job. If Oprah Winfrey can do all that, she ought to run. But there are several other Democrats who would qualify right now as well. Celebrity, by itself, should be neither a reason to nominate someone nor to dismiss them.
And first, the Democrats should concentrate on taking back the House and Senate—and controlling a lot more state legislatures. Wait until this November to start speculating about 2020.
‘If governing experience truly no longer matters, then Oprah is a brilliant choice’
Michael Steel is a Republican strategist and managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies.
If governing experience truly no longer matters in a presidential candidate, then Oprah Winfrey is a brilliant choice. She is engaging, empathetic, committed and concerned. She has a genuinely inspiring story of rising from adversity to achieve the highest levels of success. She is universally known, almost universally loved, and has the ability to self-fund or raise donations at a level that few, if any, other Americans could possibly match. If the American people decide that electing a celebrity was a good idea, but believe they elected the wrong celebrity, nominating Oprah is the Democrats’ best option.
On the other hand, by 2020 people may decide that experience matters. They may realize that managing the executive branch of the United States government is a massively complex task. They may opt for a work-horse to replace the ultimate show-horse. So, the question is whether Donald Trump fundamentally shattered all the assumptions that underlie American politics (and successful democracies around the world), or whether—after four years on his rollercoaster—the American people will crave nothing so much as normalcy and competence.
‘Any woman who is able to serve should think about how they want to do so’
Stephanie Schriock is president of EMILY’s List.
At this moment of crisis in our country, women have felt empowered to join together to ignite change. As I have always said, any woman who is able to serve should think about how they want to do so—whether it’s women like Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, or, yes, Oprah, considering running for president, or women at home thinking about running for school board or city council for the first time. But it’s worth noting that the first step in defeating Trump is changing Congress, and to do that, we need to support the women running around the country in the 2018 midterm election.