Politics & Policy

Yes, Take Oprah Seriously

Winfrey with then-Senator Barack Obama and Michelle Obama at a rally in New Hampshire, December 2007. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)
If, that is, she is truly interested in a presidential run.

If Hillary Clinton could deliver a political speech half as effectively as Oprah Winfrey, she might be president today.

The actress, media mogul, and erstwhile queen of daytime TV gave what, if she ever becomes president, will be known to history as the Golden Globes Address. The first de facto convention speech ever delivered at an awards show, it brought down the house and predictably stoked talk of Oprah 2020, with people close to her fueling the speculation.

In the era Before Trump, this would have been risible. Once upon a time, military service, political experience, a policy portfolio, and national-security chops were mandatory to plausibly run for president. That time feels like a long time ago. Now, when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has mused about running himself, stood and applauded Oprah’s speech, you could see the early pecking order of a potential Democratic nomination battle establishing itself (“The Rock” would be a second-tier candidate).

What Donald Trump proved is that a celebrity with charisma, performative ability, and gobs of free media can, in the right circumstances, stomp conventional politicians who lack all three. People who were merely governors and senators, who had never really performed on a big stage or truly mastered the media (they were just politicians, after all), stood at a distinct disadvantage.

It’s very easy to see Oprah Winfrey doing to the likes of New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand what Donald Trump did to the likes of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

A common cold-water argument against Oprah running is that Democrats will want the opposite of Trump in 2020, an experienced, boring politico who’s well versed in the issues and a reliably competent executive. This line works on paper. Republicans said the same thing about Barack Obama, who prior to 2008 had come as close to genuine celebrityhood as a working politician can get. Yet Donald Trump succeeded where the worthy, earnest, managerial Mitt Romney failed.

On the current trajectory, what Democrats will most need in 2020 is someone with a big enough personality that Trump can’t diminish and negatively brand him or her. This is what he did with the rest of the Republican field and Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he easily could do the same against “Pocahontas,” aka Elizabeth Warren, and “Crazy Bernie” Sanders.

Oprah, used to commanding a massive microphone and managing a matchless brand, might be relatively immune to this treatment. She could try Obama’s tack of running to the left substantively and to the center stylistically. She’d be the empathetic healer, the advocate of abused women, running to make history in the shadow of the civil-rights movement.

If, that is, she’s truly interested. Even the best campaigns have down cycles and bring humiliations of the sort celebrities usually avoid. Why would Oprah, who at the moment never has to encounter anyone who isn’t in awe of her, want to sign up for that?

Half the country would, by definition, begin to dislike her. She would have to fight with that part of the Democratic base committed to Bernie Sanders and suspicious of her as a Hollywood billionaire. She’d experience something that she’s never truly had to encounter: negative press.

For the first time, she wouldn’t be completely in control of her own image. She’d have to answer for her promotion of kooky products and theories over the years, and open up more about a private life that has been almost entirely shielded from public view.

If you believe Michael Wolff, Trump conceived of a presidential run as a way, if all else failed, to enhance his brand. Oprah’s brand needs no such enhancing. If she ran and lost, she’d become a failed presidential candidate and could presumably never quite return to being Oprah Winfrey again.

In short, there are compelling reasons for her not to make the plunge. The inherent absurdity of the idea is not one of them.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. Copyright © 2018 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

ABC Chief Political Analyst: GOP Rep. Stefanik a ‘Perfect Example’ of the Failures of Electing Someone ‘Because They Are a Woman’

Matthew Dowd, chief political analyst for ABC News, suggested that Representative Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.) was elected due to her gender after taking issue with Stefanik's line of questioning during the first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday. “Elise Stefanik is a perfect example of why just electing ... Read More
White House

Trump vs. the ‘Policy Community’

When it comes to Russia, I am with what Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman calls the American “policy community.” Vindman, of course, is one of the House Democrats’ star impeachment witnesses. His haughtiness in proclaiming the policy community and his membership in it grates, throughout his 340-page ... Read More
Law & the Courts

DACA’s Day in Court

When President Obama unilaterally changed immigration policy after repeatedly and correctly insisting that he lacked the constitutional power to do it, he said that congressional inaction had forced his hand. In the case of his first major unilateral move — “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which ... Read More
White House

Impeachment and the Broken Truce

The contradiction at the center of American politics in Anno Domini 2019 is this: The ruling class does not rule. The impeachment dog-and-pony show in Washington this week is not about how Donald Trump has comported himself as president (grotesquely) any more than early convulsions were about refreshed ... Read More
Books

A Preposterous Review

A   Georgetown University professor named Charles King has reviewed my new book The Case for Nationalism for Foreign Affairs, and his review is a train wreck. It is worth dwelling on, not only because the review contains most of the lines of attack against my book, but because it is extraordinarily shoddy and ... Read More