Odds are long that Oprah Winfrey will run for president. If she decides to do so, the wealthy business icon might find success by rejecting the nation’s political duopoly.
Gallup released annual survey results this month indicating 42 percent now identify as independents not aligned with either major political party. Up three points since the 2016 campaign, it’s the biggest jump in the year following a national election and mirrors the record 43 percent in 2014.
Only 29 percent identify as Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans. Factoring in those independents “leaning” toward a party, the split is identical to political affinity at the 2016 election: 47 percent align with Democrats and 42 percent align with Republicans.
Winfrey’s Golden Globes lifetime achievement award acceptance speech two Sundays ago sparked widespread swooning and fueled broad encouragement for a presidential run.
Winfrey didn’t declare an intention, intimate an interest or otherwise hint at a campaign. Her remarks focused on the film industry event’s elephant in the room – sexual discrimination, harassment and assault within the entertainment hierarchy. A country increasingly accustomed to politicians incapable of either inspirational or even aspirational narratives sucked up Winfrey’s characteristically uplifting and rousing presentation as if to quench a desert-induced thirst.
Public reaction to Winfrey’s speech should worry both political parties.
For Democrats, the sudden internal outpouring of support for a Winfrey candidacy reveals a concern common among party loyalists. Anticipating that two-dozen-plus candidates may compete for the party’s nomination, there is a growing fear that none are capable of winning.
Still stinging from choosing a candidate they should have known could and would fail, Democrats don’t want to again make that mistake. Facing a roster of standard-issue politicians, Winfrey potentially offers a personality and path for victory.
Coalescing around Winfrey comes with downsides for Democrats. The notion rankles establishment types who believe the necessary antidote to President Trump is an off-the-rack Washington-wonk the total opposite of a wildly unpredictable and completely undisciplined incumbent.
A non-traditional nominee would also legitimize the idea that what the country needs, and continues to want, is an outside-the-box chief executive not found among blur-inducing talking heads without a salable message. Going that route, some quiver, would only credit a Disruptor-in-Chief for understanding that and benefiting from it.
With Democrats fighting internecine battles over placating the party’s far-left base, Winfrey could come up short. Democratic side-eye will be harsh and liberal grumbling loud, for example, when the party’s tax-and-spend proclivities confront Winfrey’s anti-tax comments prior to the recent GOP tax reforms: “The most pain I feel – my accountants will tell you this – every time I write a check to the IRS. It’s a ceremony. They come in – for years they came in with wine – now they come in with tequila.”
For Republicans, Winfrey is a huge threat.
She is much more liked by many more people than Trump. Winfrey would almost assuredly defeat him, something no other candidate can confidently claim. Notably, she would entice blue-collar, rural and suburban voters away from Trump.
Presidential candidates have long been subtly judged by how much and for how long voters would suffer the sound of their voice. While Winfrey might cloy at times or after a while, she’s much more likely to wear better and longer than Trump, having already spent a lot of time in our homes.
Although Winfrey would likely adopt relatively conventional modes of operation and communication not of Trump’s style or habit, there is no better messenger able to compete with him on both reaching and persuading the public. She wins hands-down on that.
We like our presidents to be likable, and empathetic, and, perhaps most of all, not make us cringe too often. Winfrey might be elected merely to restore national civility and collective optimism.
Oprah Winfrey is a reminder that a near-majority are now alienated from both parties. That’s what should worry the political establishment, whether Winfrey runs or not.