There is no doubt, if Oprah Winfrey decided to run for president she would instantly run at the top of the pack. Few Americans are as well-known and well-loved as the long-time media mogul.
The idea, of course, has been floated before in political circles and at family dinner tables. Winfrey herself teased the possibility of a presidential run last fall when she retweeted an op-ed about how she may be Democrat’s best hope for 2020 and said, “Thanks for the vote of confidence!” And Trump even once sung her praises and suggested her as a potential running mate, though she has been a donor and a surrogate for Democrats.
But last night, the country stopped and considered a political future for the former talk show host in a new way. During a moving speech at the Golden Globes, Winfrey once again seemed to assume a designated mantle as a national, cultural leader and inspired confidence and rallied for change.
“A new day is on the horizon!” Winfrey declared at the awards show, offering guidance and credence to a movement that has swept the country in recent months, calling for the end of sexual and gender discrimination and harassment. “When that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”
The wave of sexual allegations that has rocked nearly every sector of American society has felt at times like an unwieldy crusade. Both women and men have looked for direction on the issue and it is not surprising that Winfrey, with her own heart-wrenching, jaw-dropping personal story of overcoming rape, abuse and poverty, was able to offer leadership for many.
It is not hard to imagine how a ‘Winfrey for President’ campaign could be successful.
Winfrey is an actual self-made billionaire, who has proven herself to be one of the savviest business executives in the nation’s history and could surely run on her experience and expertise as a manager of several successful companies across industries.
But she is more than a suit, obviously. She has focused her storytelling on human interest stories that people relate to and identify with.
“We’ve seen that Americans who are yearning to be heard and seen are those who mobilize in elections, and Oprah has made a career of seeing and hearing people,” Liz Hart, a national Democratic strategist who started her career in entertainment and television production, told ABC News. “When Oprah, one of the world’s greatest orators who operates seamlessly across the worlds of pop culture, academic enlightenment, and human spirituality, uses a Golden Globes speech to eloquently translate how hardship can become positive power on primetime television, we see candidate-style lightning in a bottle.”
For decades, Winfrey has been a harbinger of cultural trends. Americans, across the country and political spectrum, trust her into their homes, with the books they read, with the diets they chose. Her name on a product is the ultimate endorsement. Political experts at the time, said her endorsement of a junior senator named Barack Obama may have both launched his campaign and sealed his victory.
Still, interesting, a Quinnipiac poll last spring, found that yes, Winfrey had a relatively high favorability rating (52 – 23 percent), but a majority of respondents said they did not want her to run in 2020.
While her candidacy would surely represent Hollywood, and perhaps liberal America, snapping back, maybe the country would be leery to follow one first-time, celebrity, politician with another. Plus, Winfrey, like others in the top-echelons of the entertainment world, could face questions about what she knew about Harvey Weinstein’s behavior and whether she should have spoke out sooner.
And then, who knows if Winfrey would actually want the job. Winfrey’s longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times “She would absolutely do it.”
The richest African-American in the 20th century has meticulously controlled her brand and political campaigns are anything but predictable. She could lose and may not want to take that risk. Plus, some of the most influential leaders never end up near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.