Over the past week, the mainstream media has been trying to push the idea of Oprah Winfrey as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020. How realistic is this proposition and can she actually win?
First, we must note that Oprah herself has not announced a candidacy, nor has she signaled which party she plans to run in. Remember, President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) was a Democrat until just a few years ago. Yet he was elected as a Republican.
Trump’s experience indicates that celebrity candidates seem to have an easier time of it in the GOP. The fact that no reporter has bothered to ask Oprah which party she wants to run on, indicates the media may not take this seriously.
My personal suspicion is that this is nothing but media hype like the Dwayne Johnson and Mark Zuckerberg presidential speculation we endured last year. The Oprah presidential speculation seems to be hype to fill a slow news day and puff up a very boring story – the (yawn) Golden Globe Awards.
What do the Oddsmakers Say?
The political oddsmakers at PredictIt still do not take President Oprah very seriously.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is still PredictIt’s favorite for Democratic Nominee he received highest bid price at 17¢ on 12 January 2018. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillbrand (D-California), and former Vice President Joe Biden D-Delaware were tied at number two.
Oprah came in 10th on Predictit’s list behind such obscure candidates as U.S. Amy Klobucher (D-Minnesota) receiving just 4¢ Although Oprah attracted the most money, possibly because she is the best-known candidate (so far). Zuckerberg and Johnson were 11 and 12 receiving just 3¢ bids.
If the odds are to be believed, Oprah is just an average candidate. So why is she getting so much media attention? Simple, most journalists are taught to present the news for people with an Eighth Grade mentality (no big words, no large numbers, no explanations, and no ideas). When they report on the presidential race they mention the candidates the Eighth Graders might recognize, and ignore everybody else.
So the truth is Oprah has a slight chance, but in the real world, she’s not much better a candidate than the Rock or the Facebook CEO. My calculation is that Zuckerberg has the best chance of the celebrity pretenders because he has the money to bankroll a campaign. Zuckerberg had a net worth of $74.2 billion in November 2017 so can pay for the presidential campaign out of pocket without affecting his fortune.
How Realistic is President Oprah?
Donald J. Trump benefited from a perfect storm of events in 2016 that probably will not be repeated in 2020. Those events were:
- A lackluster field of incompetent Republican candidates most of whom were running campaigns based upon a highly-unpopular ideology – movement conservatism.
- A completely incompetent, unpopular, and widely hated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (D-New York).
- A Democratic candidate that ran a totally inept campaign.
- A widespread revolt against the party leadership in the GOP.
- Widespread dissatisfaction with the nominee that caused many Democrats not to vote or vote for somebody else.
- A well-organized, highly professional Republican Party organization; led by political mastermind Reince Priebus, that stepped in and engineered an effective campaign for Trump.
- A corporate media that was not willing to report on Trump’s shortcomings and prepared to cover up some of his worst behaviors. For an example of the kind of dirt on Trump, the media ignored see this New York Times article.
To succeed Oprah would need a replay of most of these events and that seems improbable.
Some of the stars are aligned in Winfrey’s favor, there is the widespread revolt against the Democratic leadership, and a lot of Democrats are still espousing an unpopular centrist political philosophy. She would also need to find a campaign manager as brilliant as Reince Priebus (maybe Oprah ought to give Reince a call I do not think he is doing anything right now).
The probable Republican candidate; Trump, is unpopular and likely to face a serious primary challenge from a centrist such as Governor Kasich (R-Ohio), U.S. Senator Cory Gardener (R-Colorado), or former Massachusetts Governor William Weld (R-New York) and possibly a conservative or libertarian such as U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) or former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, or a second coming of Jeb Bush (R-Florida) or U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Only history will tell us if Trump will run a competent campaign in 2020 or if the GOP will once again save the Donald from himself.
Oprah has No Base
Another problem Oprah faces is that leftists are not buying her act in the way the Tea Party bought Trump’s.
The initial reaction to Oprah in the left-wing blogosphere has been to dismiss her as a corporate shill. Most leftists seem to view Oprah as a front for the Democratic establishment they hate.
Part of the reason for this is that Oprah has not established a base the way Trump did. The Donald was politically active for years before announcing his candidacy. He used the birther charges against President Obama to establish himself as an activist and build up a sort of movement before announcing. Oprah would have to start from scratch which would put her at a disadvantage when faced with Bernie Sanders’ well-oiled machine.
A greater problem Oprah faces is the speculation that her candidacy is being advanced by the corporate elite in an attempt to blunt the left. The idea is that big money donors think Oprah can stop a far-left candidate like Sanders, Zuckerberg, or U.S. Senator Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts) from winning the nomination. The elite fears such a candidate would sign tax increases and strengthened anti-trust laws, throw the weight of government behind unions, and expand regulations if elected.
To succeed, Oprah will have to prove that she is not a corporate puppet or a member of the establishment. That might be extremely difficult in the age of blogs and social media. It will be hard to maintain populist street cred when the internet is filling up with pictures of the latest fundraiser in Beverly Hills.
This means she will have to take some far-left positions on foreign policy, the economy, healthcare, and trade. One guaranteed winner for Oprah would be to say the magic words “I will fight to increase Social Security payments.” That would win her around 70% of the vote of people over 65, including those of many white racists. Yet it would make fundraising all but impossible; because the elite fears Social Security increases which would necessitate higher income taxes.
A leftwing stance on economic issues would probably doom the Winfrey campaign because it is hard to imagine big-money corporate donors opening their checkbooks for leftwing Oprah. Even though voters would probably love leftwing Oprah and take her straight to the White House.
Oprah as Religious Leader
Oprah is fairly clean as celebrities go; the only problem she would face about her personal life is speculation about her sexuality. Winfrey seems to have both a boyfriend and a girlfriend according to the tabloid headlines.
Oprah’s biggest weakness might be her status as a sort of religious leader. Winfrey is a sort of preacher who has been promoting New Age spirituality for years. New York Times writer Ross Douthat calls her “a prophet and a priestess.” American Conservative pundit Rod Dreher goes farther and labels Winfrey a “Pope” and a “Pallas Athena” (an Ancient Greek goddess) of a modern American paganism.
This religious sensibility is part of Oprah’s attraction, but it will repel many voters. Historically Americans claim to be Christians but prefer secular candidates. The best example of this phenomena occurred back in 1980 voters rejected the last openly devout president; Sunday-school teaching Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia), by electing Ronald Reagan (R-California) who never went to church.
More recently the Religious Right and Republican primary voters rejected the openly devout Orthodox Christian Ohio Governor John Kasich, in favor of the materialist Trump. One reason for that might be is that Trump; who appears to have no faith, presents no threat to Evangelicals or their beliefs. Oprah’s blatant neo-pagan religiosity is a direct challenge to Evangelicalism and to traditional Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, and Protestantism. Kasich’s orthodoxy is also a direct challenge to American evangelicalism.
A problem that Oprah; or any Democratic nominee, will have to overcome is the widespread view that modern progressivism is a threat to traditional Christianity. Many Christians hold that view, and the nomination of a well-known promoter of the New Age will only enhance it.
Oprah the Nut
Another problem Oprah may face is that many Americans really do not care about religion. Open religiosity might repeal those voters or they may not care about it. A greater problem for Winfrey might be nuttiness factor.
Oprah has long been associated with pseudoscience and quackery. She promoted the careers of such charlatans as Jenny McCarthy, John of God, Dr. Phil McGraw, T.J. Jakes, Joel Osteen, and Dr. Mehmet Oz. Oprah has also promoted such dubious beliefs as the Secret, belief in wishing, opposition to vaccines, psychics, faith healing and worship of Angels.
Association with nuttiness does not deter votes, Trump’s birther claims and denial of global warming did not scare voters away from him; nor did President Obama’s associations with Marxists and radicals like Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The media has long given Oprah a pass on such lunacy, but will her opponents?
So What Would President Oprah be like?
The final problem is that Oprah appears to have no political agenda, what are her positions on foreign policy, taxes, Social Security, Climate Change, the environment, Civil Rights, voting, healthcare, Afghanistan, North Korea, trade, China, and the United Nations? Has anybody bothered to ask?
That makes President Oprah an open slate, but I would imagine her administration would be a lot like that of President Trump. That is a Treasury Secretary from Goldman Sachs, a general or admiral as chief of staff, and laws written by whoever the Speaker of the House is.
Like Trump, I imagine President Winfrey would be a super-hawk on military matters taking a hardline on North Korea, ordering lots of drone strikes and sending in the troops whenever the Pentagon orders her to. She would also be totally dependent upon her party’s Congressional leaders for a domestic agenda, just like The Donald. Oprah’s acting experience might come in handy here; she’s used to reading a script and delivering a believable performance.
America needs leadership in the Oval Office not the cult of celebrity. Hopefully, the antics of President Trump have discredited the horrendous notion of celebrity politicians. If not we find ourselves saddled with a weaker, more ineffective, and even more unpopular President in 2021.
 To be fair to Dreher he uses the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” which means worship of God without traditional religious structure.