Don’t tell Marianne Williamson she can’t win
Don’t tell Marianne Williamson she can’t win the Democratic presidential nomination.
The best-selling spiritual author has so far barely showed up in polls. But sitting in her Washington, D.C., hotel on Sunday, she bristled when asked how she might influence the race without winning it.
“Those who say who can and cannot win now are the same people who were telling us that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in three years ago,” Williamson, 66, said in a nearly hourlong interview. “I have this radical idea and that’s that we let the people decide.”
Williamson thinks her presidential bid can still take off and argues that there’s some evidence that people are becoming familiar with her campaign.
As they do, she said, the hunger for a political outsider that propelled President Trump to the GOP nomination in 2016 will help her with Democrats and independents alike.
“I challenge the idea that only those whose careers are entrenched within the limitations of the system that drove us into this ditch are the only ones qualified to drive us out of it,” Williamson said.
Optimism aside, Williamson is a heavy underdog in a crowded Democratic field that includes a two-term vice president, more than a half-dozen senators and three current and former governors.
She and Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur running to implement a universal basic income, are perhaps the biggest outsiders in the race, though so far Yang has arguably won more headlines than Williamson.
Yet Williamson has succeeded at much of what she’s done in life — she is the author of seven New York Times best-sellers and has been called Oprah Winfrey’s “spiritual adviser” — and she believes politics will be no exception.
Since announcing her candidacy in January, Williamson has sought to imbue her campaign with the brand of spirituality on which she has built her career.
Her rhetoric often borders on the metaphysical, revolving around the notion that the United States’ political and economic systems have failed in recent decades to live up to the country’s core values and that Americans must take a “fearless moral inventory” and “address the exact nature of our character defects.”
“I’ve had a 35-year career working with people seeking to navigate their lives during times of crisis, moving from crisis into transformation,” Williamson said. “Having had those experiences, I feel very clear what it takes to do that. It takes a level of radical truth-telling and brutal honesty with yourself, admitting the exact nature of your own character defects.
“A country is just a collection of individuals, and so for a country to transform, those same things need to be done.”
For Williamson, that means grappling with the issues where she says the U.S. government has fallen short of its values.
She has called for between $200 billion and $500 billion to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved African Americans — “anything under $100 billion is insulting,” she said — as well as “reparative measures” towards Native Americans.
And she wants to establish a Cabinet-level Department of Childhood and Youth that would be tasked with combating what she called “collective child neglect”: underfunded public schools, rampant violence and unaddressed bullying, among other sources of “chronic trauma” for children and adolescents.
Williamson’s presidential bid isn’t her first foray into campaign politics. She ran as an Independent in 2014 to represent California’s 33rd District, eventually falling to Rep. Ted Lieu (D) in the primary after spending nearly $2 million in the process.
But she believes that her message is particularly suited for this political moment, arguing that Trump’s brand of politics has ultimately failed to satisfy voters’ yearning for meaningful change and that the president has only reinforced the kind of “authoritarian corporatism” that she says is ailing the country.
Williamson, however, rejected the notion that the 2020 election will simply be a referendum on Trump.
“The desire for disruption of the political status quo remains legitimate, and that’s why I believe that if we nominate someone who is simply a better version of the same-old, same-old, first of all, I don’t think it would defeat Trump,” she said. “And even if it defeated Trump, it wouldn’t change the path that led to him in the first place.”
That case may prove to be a difficult one to make to Democratic primary voters who are almost laser-focused on defeating Trump.
That reality is underscored by former Vice President Joe Biden’s recent surge in the polls.
Unlike many other Democratic hopefuls, who have put issues like health care and trade at the center of their campaigns, Biden has zeroed in on a call to oust Trump, while refraining from weighing in on many of the more progressive policy proposals espoused by some of his primary opponents.
Williamson, however, insisted that Americans were more interested in “genuine, fundamental disruption of the political and economic status in this country,” dismissing the notion that voters are simply looking for a return to pre-Trump policies.
“If the people agree with that, wouldn’t they have elected Hillary Clinton?” she said.
Williamson’s advisers say that her campaign is trending in the right direction.
A CNN national poll released late last month showed her with 1 percent support among registered Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, tied with more-seasoned politicians like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
And just last week, Williamson announced that she had reached the 65,000-donor threshold to qualify for the first Democratic presidential debates in June — an appearance that could serve as a jumping-off point for her campaign, her advisers say.
Former Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), who is heading up Williamson’s campaign in New Hampshire, acknowledged that she does not have the kind of name recognition as better-known candidates like Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), nor has she had the kind of viral moments that have helped raise South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s profile.
But with nine months to go before the Iowa caucuses, there is still plenty of time for Williamson to catch fire, he said.
“The nature of viral media is that it’s viral. In other words, you don’t know when the virus is going to hit or how it’s going to hit,” Hodes said.
“I think, increasingly, as she appears in both the national media and especially when she gets on the debate stage that those will be important moments.”
Williamson could face one more obstacle to securing her place on the debate stage next month. If more than 20 candidates qualify for the debate, those who have met the donor threshold and who score at least 1 percent in three Democratic National Committee–approved polls will be given priority.
Maurice Daniels, Williamson’s campaign manager, said he is not concerned about meeting the polling qualifications for the first debate.
“Personally, I think that we need to get into the business of talking to voters versus jumping through artificial hoops,” he said.
“What is going to matter, and I think the distinguishing factor between Marianne’s message and everybody else’s message, is she’s talking in a way that people on the ground really are reacting to,” he added.