Prospect of President Winfrey thrills Dems

Prospect of President Winfrey thrills Dems
© Getty images

A rousing speech by Oprah Winfrey touching on politics and the #MeToo movement provided a jolt of excitement to Democrats who believe she could reenergize the party and defeat Donald Trump in 2020. 

Within minutes of her speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday, Winfrey was trending on social media. The next day, the possibility of a “President Winfrey” dominated the headlines and the cable news cycles.

While Winfrey has previously ruled out a political bid, her camp on Monday did little to temper the talk.

The talk show mogul’s longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times that a Winfrey bid for the White House was “up to the people” and that “she would absolutely do it.” 

Actress Meryl Streep was fully on board, telling The Washington Post that she wanted Winfrey to run for president.

“I don’t think she had any intention [of declaring for office],” Streep said. “But now she doesn’t have a choice.”

Democrats across the country, though they have criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN analyst Kirsten Powers: Melania's jacket should read 'Let them eat cake' CNN's Cuomo confronts Lewandowski over 'womp womp' remark Sessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance MORE’s lack of experience before entering the Oval Office, expressed excitement about the possibility that an amateur politician — and perhaps the most famous woman in the country — might run as a Democrat in 2020.

“I’ve never seen this much excitement about a potential candidate since Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Energy: EPA declines to write new rule for toxic spills | Senate blocks move to stop Obama water rule | EPA bought 'tactical' pants and polos Clarifying the power of federal agencies could offer Trump a lasting legacy Dems allow separation of parents, children to continue, just to score political points MORE,” said one top Democratic strategist. “My phone instantly blew up with messages. People seemed genuinely excited about the prospect.” 

The Democratic donor circuit lit up, with one top Obama fundraiser describing the buzz around Winfrey as “pretty interesting and exciting.” The speech was “definitely a signal to Obama folks” that she was considering a White House bid, the fundraiser said.  

Asked if fundraisers are taking the speculation seriously, the fundraiser replied, “I think everyone who is in the game is.” 

People on both ends of the political spectrum agreed on one thing: If Winfrey chose to run for the White House, she’d have a real chance of winning.

“Lots of people will support Oprah because she’s Oprah. If she gets in the race she would be formidable,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons.

The conservative Drudge Report declared in a headline “YES SHE CAN!”

Obama World in particular seemed to revel in the what-ifs. 

“I can’t think of anything else this morning except @Oprah and her speech and how maybe things are changing and how lucky we are to have her and how we can’t stop #oprahforpresident,” Alyssa Mastromonaco, Obama’s former deputy chief of staff, wrote on Twitter on Monday. 

Winfrey would have the ability to self-fund a campaign and the fame to generate 24/7 media attention. She could also be a difficult target for opponents in a primary fight.

A few Democrats on Monday did criticize the idea that their party should nominate a former talk show host and media icon, particularly during the Trump era. These voices said it was time to return to candidates who had experience in government, not celebrities in the mold of the current president.

“Maybe we should just elect the president after a special week-long edition of ‘Survivor,’ ” Democratic strategist Jonathan Tasini wrote in an email on Monday. “Celebrity culture is a cancer—and it’s dismaying to see people who should know better swooning over such idiocy.”

Tasini highlighted the “scores of qualified women” in the Democratic ranks, including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenFederal court rules consumer bureau structure unconstitutional Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix MORE (Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump Dem presidential hopefuls seize on Trump border policy Actress Marcia Gay Harden urges Congress to boost Alzheimer's funding MORE (N.Y.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe American experience is incomplete without its neighbor – The argument for Americanism Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral MORE (Calif.).

“Giving a good eight-minute speech to a Hollywood awards event does not make you a qualified candidate for president,” Tasini said. 

Others said Trump’s victory over a strong field of Republican candidates in 2016 showed the possibility that an outsider could triumph — even in an electorate that might be looking for a candidate the opposite of Trump.

“Conventional wisdom says it’s not going to happen, but ask yourself, when’s the last time conventional wisdom was right?” Democratic strategist David Wade said. 

Around this time in 2005, no one thought Barack Obama would go on to win the nomination and then the presidency, Wade said, adding that in 2013, on the heels of the Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyFormer top Treasury official to head private equity group Romney backs Laura Bush on border: 'We need a more compassionate answer' ‘Three Californias’ plan would give Dems more seats MORE loss, Republicans believed the electorate wanted a “man of the people” who would reach out to Hispanics and women. 

“How did that work out?” he added. 

Even Republicans predicted that Winfrey could pose a problem for Trump in 2020. While she would be similar to Trump in some ways as an outsider, her public persona is also very different than the president’s, who has delighted in dividing.

“She has a story of perseverance that connects with all people of every level,” said Republican strategist Shermichael Singleton. “Strategically speaking, she already has name recognition and she is seen as a uniting figure, which could work to her advantage when considering the current landscape.”

“She would without a doubt galvanize women and minorities, and I think a considerable amount of men who are independent would consider her,” Singleton added. “I would also argue, depending on her positions pertaining to business and the economy, she could also gain support from the business class and moderate Republicans who may not be the biggest supporters of Trump.”