We're officially through the looking glass, folks. I woke up this morning to find not one or two, but four articles on the Washington Post website speculating about the possibility of Oprah Winfrey running for president. Apparently she gave a zinger of a speech last night while accepting a lifetime Golden Globe award, which sparked all the buzz. So I am forced to consider the idea myself: President Oprah?
Would Oprah Winfrey run? That's a huge question right there, and one that so far has no definitive answer. She has said she isn't thinking about running, but then again that sort of decision can be made anytime before the campaign begins. Could she win the Democratic Party nomination? That also remains to be seen, and would depend a lot on who else was running. Could she win the general election? That would depend on whether Donald Trump was on the Republican ticket, in large part.
I have to admit not being too stunned by the possibility, though. I've long said that politics has become indistinguishable from show business, most especially for presidential campaigns. I even personally speculated way back in 2006 why so many Republican celebrities run for office when the entertainment industry is so wildly skewed towards liberals. Where were all the liberal celebrity-politicians (celebriticians)? I even mentioned Oprah in this article, although in a negative context ("Oprah Winfrey recently even sicced her lawyers on a fan trying to convince her to run for president"). Even so, it proves that the idea of Oprah making a run at it has been around for more than a decade. I then revisited the concept in 2014, when the list between Democratic and Republican celebriticians had balanced out quite a bit. When I wrote the first article, Al Franken was just considering a Senate run, but by the second one he was getting ready to be re-elected. If he hadn't been forced out of the Senate due to scandal, my guess is a lot of people would now be speculating whether Franken would throw his hat in the ring for 2020.
In other words, even before Trump upended the system, we've had celebrities in politics for a while. Off the top of my head, I can name many who predated Trump: Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, "Gopher" from The Love Boat, that guy from Dukes Of Hazzard, and (most recently) Arnold Schwarzenegger. They all started out with one big step up on any other candidate -- name recognition. Good or bad, when celebrities run people already know who they are (or at least think they do). That's worth millions of dollars in politics -- money that doesn't have to be spent on introductory ads, because someone like Schwarzenegger has no need to introduce himself to the public. Or teach them how to pronounce his last name, for that matter.
This is why contemplating an Oprah Winfrey run isn't all that far-fetched. She not only has national name recognition, she has an absolute army of adoring fans who would back her to the hilt. That's political gold, to state the obvious.
In normal times, the argument would be made that she lacks the proper and necessary experience to be president. These, however, are not normal times. Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office, and he had precisely zero experience. Or, ironically, exactly the same experience that Oprah has -- being a wealthy and successful television personality. So how could any Republican make the case that Oprah is somehow not acceptable on the grounds of experience? She's run a successful business, which is all Trump could claim in the way of experience.
Democratic candidates might find it hard to run against Oprah, since her devoted fans wouldn't take too kindly to see her being trashed on a debate stage by a fellow Democrat. The number is debatable, but Oprah's endorsement of Barack Obama probably pulled in something like a million votes for him. That's not just loyalty in the entertainment realm, it shows political influence on a massive scale.
I must confess a lot of ignorance about Oprah's history, since I have never watched her television show. So I don't personally know if there are any skeletons in her closet which might fall out during the intense scrutiny of a presidential campaign. Has she actively screwed anyone over to get to where she is? I simply don't know.
Barring that sort of scandal, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of leverage fellow Democrats might use against her. Foisting Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz on an unsuspecting public doesn't seem all that bad in the grand scheme of things. And hey, if Gayle King can pretend to be a journalist on the morning news, then perhaps Oprah can be president, right?
The biggest knock against Oprah I've heard so far is that she may be a wee bit too gullible in the things she chooses to endorse on her show. Quackery of one nature or another has, at times, been embraced by Oprah. Again, this doesn't seem to big a knock against her politically, though, as she can always brush off such complaints with: "I am an entertainer, and I choose what I think is entertaining to put on my show."
Oprah certainly has a lot of charisma, which is a definite plus in the political realm (especially at the presidential level). She is upbeat, she is positive, and she looks for the good in people. That's a definite plus all around. It would also make it incredibly hard for Democrats to attack her during the primaries.
Would Democratic voters decide to fight fire with fire, if Trump is running for a second term? Maybe. Maybe Oprah is the best candidate to take on Trump, in a way. He certainly would be threatened by Oprah, since he routinely shows how threatened he is by any woman or any member of a minority who attacks him, after all. To have an African-American woman regularly baiting Trump might push him to say something completely unforgivable. But even then, it's not assured that this would backfire on him, since he's said a lot of unforgivable things about a lot of people by now.
If Oprah beat Trump and became the first woman president, would she do a good job? Again, it's hard to tell. Other than knowing she has a generic liberal bias, I have no idea what policies Oprah would champion or how she would come down on sticky questions like where to send the military. I do think she'd be much better at learning the job than Trump has proven to be, and that she'd surround herself with intelligent people and then listen to their advice -- again, something Trump has proven largely incapable of doing. So President Oprah would at the very least be better than what we've got now.
That's a pretty low bar, though. Any Democrat who runs in 2020 would almost assuredly be better than what we've got now, after all. But Trump's victory has changed the political universe to such an extent that considering an Oprah Winfrey presidential run has to be taken seriously. Pre-Trump the very idea might have been considered laughable, or quixotic at best. In the Trump Era, however, I could indeed see Oprah taking him on and beating him. I don't know how likely that outcome would be, but it certainly now has to be seen as squarely within the realm of possibility.
Many Washington insiders may be deluding themselves now about Trump. They comfortably tell themselves that this is all just one big aberration, and that when Trump exits the stage America will then return to sober analysis of distinguished candidates for president. It'll all be like Trump never happened, in other words.
I'm not so sure, personally. Trump might not be just a fluke. He has thrown the door wide open for who plausibly can be considered presidential material, for better or for worse. So it wouldn't be all that surprising to see someone like Oprah -- a personality with a built-in fan base of tens of millions -- walk through that door after Trump. After all, if Trump can do it, then why can't Oprah?
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant