Oprah Winfrey may be the perfect Democratic presidential contender, but her Hollywood cheerleaders compromise her chances.
Will Sunday evening’s Golden Globes Awards show turn out to have been a pivotal moment that shaped the 2020 presidential race? The wagonload of conventional Democratic politicians already making plans to challenge President Donald Trump better hope not.
If Oprah Winfrey decides to let Hollywood liberals’ ecstatic reaction to her awards-show speech become the starting point for a presidential run, she would immediately vault to the top of a field that is currently composed of a mix of grizzled political veterans (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren) and a bunch of untested but hopeful newcomers to the national stage (Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker). While all of those politicians can come up with a scenario by which a combination of luck, skill, and circumstances could lead to their winning the Democratic nomination, none have the universal name recognition, wealth, and likeability that the daytime TV star turned media mogul possesses.
It’s easy to imagine that, to match Trump, a Democratic party burdened by a deep bench of mediocrities will embrace their own media celebrity with no political experience. But there is one potentially serious problem to her candidacy that the unexpected launch of the Oprah movement revealed.
As much as Oprah benefited from the rapture she excited in an auditorium packed with Hollywood stars, the blatant hypocrisy and vapid virtue-signaling on display at the Golden Globes was a reminder of the Democratic party’s fatal weakness: It is adored by coastal elites but is clueless about the feelings and needs of the rest of the country. Oprah has proven she has the acting chops to feel the pain of ordinary Americans. Nonetheless, the spectacle of an entertainment industry condemning Trump while having enabled sexual predators for decades is an albatross that Winfrey will have to shed if she is to make the leap from theoretical front-runner to a candidate who can actually win the presidency.
While the overwhelming instinct of the chattering classes is to mock celebrities who aspire to government, that didn’t happen to Winfrey in the 24 hours following the Golden Globes.
After Donald Trump humiliated all the smart people who write about politics and dismissed his chances of becoming president, no one is going to make such a mistake with Winfrey.
After Donald Trump humiliated all the smart people who write about politics and dismissed his chances of becoming president, no one is going to make such a mistake with Winfrey. Nor should they. Like him, she lacks any normal qualifications for high office, let alone the presidency. But in our transformed political culture, the notion that this would prevent her from winning the Democratic nomination — even in a party that has spent the last two years mocking Trump for the same attribute — is absurd. If Oprah wants to run — and sources supposedly close to her claim she is interested — she must be acknowledged as the potential front-runner in a race where the only seemingly sure things are recycled and tired candidates of the past, such as Biden or Sanders.
It’s not merely Tinseltown hype to anoint her as the leader of a contest that hasn’t even really begun. Winfrey possesses many of the qualities that Democrats are likely to prioritize in 2020 as they seek to replicate Barack Obama’s successes while avoiding another disaster like Hillary Clinton.
Winfrey is a female and a minority candidate in a party where appealing to female and minority voters is key to mobilizing the liberal base that elected Obama twice but that failed to turn out in sufficient numbers for Clinton. While other 2020 Democratic wannabes might punch some of those same tickets, Winfrey appears to come as close as anyone to the elusive Obama formula.
She also possesses some of Trump’s strengths in that she is an outsider untainted by the public’s disgust with Washington and the political class. On top of that, and unlike Trump, she has built her media empire on being an unthreatening personality who is liked by virtually every demographic group. She also has nearly as much money as Trump. And though any Democrat can count on the support of the mainstream media that is already at war with the president, Oprah’s open flattery of the press in her speech is a reminder that she will be operating with another built-in advantage that will make it even more difficult for primary rivals to attack her.
It’s true that if she enters the political arena, Winfrey’s status as a universally beloved figure will be revoked. After decades as a purveyor of feel-good, personal-growth solutions to problems, she will become a target who will, like everyone else in politics, be held accountable for every foolish thing she has said and done. And despite her obvious intelligence and keen instincts for manipulating an audience, she will inevitably be exposed as a policy neophyte. It’s also possible that despite her seemingly unerring grip on America’s affections, her trademark touchy-feely persona would wear thin on the nation’s patience. On the other hand, the contrast to the angry and vindictive Trump might work in her favor; she has a vault full of TV appearances where we’ve seen her cry and reveal America’s inner torments. But we don’t know how she’ll react under the very different pressures that come with running for president.
But her real problem might be rooted in the origin of her still-theoretical candidacy: Hollywood.
Hollywood isn’t just a problem for Democrats; it’s a toxic waste dump that reminds voters of everything they hate about their party.
The notion that the film and television world still has the moral standing to preach to the nation — let alone impose its presidential choice on us — is risible. That one of those prominent actors who were most vocal about Winfrey’s running was Meryl Streep —someone who was closely associated with serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein while still claiming to know nothing about his deeds despite their being so well known that his reputation was openly mocked in public for years — speaks loudly to this problem.
It’s not just that the coastal elites Hollywood exemplifies are unpopular with flyover America. It’s that the entertainment industry is uniquely culpable for the sexual predation, leading to the #metoo movement, about which Winfrey was eloquently lecturing the nation Sunday night. The more closely Winfrey is associated with her fellow celebrity cheerleaders, the less likely that she will transcend the Democratic party’s inherent limitations.
Trump has already shown that voters aren’t looking for the perfect political résumé in a president, so Winfrey won’t need to prove that a successful entertainer and media executive can run the country. Rather, her challenge will be that she will have to flee the embrace of the very people who are now doing so much to hype the Oprah-for-president bandwagon. Like every other Democrat, she has to understand that for all of the glitz and glamour of their donors, a group wearing designer black gowns and tuxedos has no clue about the public’s concerns. Hollywood isn’t just a problem for Democrats; it’s a toxic waste dump that reminds voters of everything they hate about their party. How Winfrey or any Democrat navigates that conundrum will go a long way toward answering the question about whether their party can take advantage of Trump’s historically low favorability ratings in the next presidential contest.