The shock is that she’s under 50 percent. Universally known, widely well liked, and she can’t crack a majority against a guy with a 40 percent job approval? C’mon.
On the other hand, this comes from Rasmussen, the most consistently pro-Trump pollster out there. the outfit touted by POTUS himself whenever he wants to point to some middling data to counter the terrible numbers from Gallup or Quinnipiac. If they’ve got Oprah by 10, figure that the truth is closer to a 15-18 point lead.
Don’t forget either that this isn’t the first Oprah/Trump poll this year. A survey taken by left-leaning PPP back in March, when Trump was more popular, had her ahead 47/40. She’s starting off close to 50 against an incumbent president. Not a bad foundation for a campaign.
Winfrey has the support of 76% of Democrats, 22% of Republicans and 44% of voters not affiliated with either major political party. The president earns 66% of the vote from Republicans, 12% of Democrats and 38% of unaffiliateds.
Twelve percent (12%) of both Republicans and Democrats are undecided given this matchup. One-in-five unaffiliated voters (19%) aren’t sure which candidate they would support.
Fifty-five percent (55%) of all voters view Winfrey favorably, including 27% with a Very Favorable view of the longtime media personality and entrepreneur. That’s little changed from 2011 after Winfrey announced she was ending her TV talk show after 25 years on the air. Thirty-four percent (34%) share an unfavorable view of her, with 18% who have a Very Unfavorable one.
Trump’s favorably rating is 39/56 by comparison. It’s a cinch that Oprah would grow less popular once she transitioned from New Age priestess to a candidate forced to take positions on divisive issues, but it’s also a cinch that she’ll never descend anywhere near the depths of Hillary/Trump unpopularity. She’s the opposite of Clinton, someone with megawatt charisma and communication skills honed by decades of TV success. She presents various political challenges to the GOP if she runs but that’s the most basic one. If it ends up a pure popularity contest between her and POTUS, she wins. And it’s not like Trump has some Nixonian command of the issues he can fall back on as an argument to voters to prefer the seasoned wonk to his amateurish opponent.
The interesting data point in the Rasmussen excerpt is the share of Republicans willing to cross over for her. Twenty-two percent is a big number. Typically the president loses 15 percent or so of Republicans in polls of his job approval; if Oprah’s pulling in the 20s, that means she’s bringing over more than just disgruntled NeverTrumpers. In fact, since NeverTrumpers tend to be dogmatic conservatives, it may be that they make up a surprisingly small share of Oprahfied Republicans. Who is that 22 percent? Trump-hating centrists like David Frum and Jennifer Rubin? Republican fans of her show? Right-leaning disciples of her self-actualization sermonizing? The fascinating thing about an Oprah candidacy, writes Ross Douthat, is that she’d be entering the race while occupying an unprecedented cultural niche for a would-be president — as an essentially religious figure.
Instead, her essential celebrity is much closer to the celebrity of Pope Francis or Billy Graham. She is a preacher, a spiritual guru, a religious teacher, an apostle and a prophetess. Indeed, to the extent that there is a specifically American religion, a faith tradition all our own, Oprah has made herself its pope…
It could be that Oprah would cease to be a figure of the spiritual center the instant she assumed a partisan mantle, that in entering in the political fray she would automatically lose her papal tiara. Or it could be that her religious authority would make the Democratic Party far more popular and powerful, more a pan-racial party of the cultural center and less a party defined by its secular and anticlerical left wing.
It could be that she would be extremely effective in the increasingly imperial role that our presidency plays, effectively uniting throne and altar and presiding over our divisions with a kind of spirituality-drenched “mass empathy,” to quote Business Insider’s Josh Barro, that our present partisans conspicuously lack. Or it could be that by turning the spiritual center to partisan ends she would hasten its collapse, heightening polarization and hustling us deeper into metaphysical civil war.
Metaphysical civil war seems like the likely outcome. In the end, however much she might wish to be a figurehead president whose chief role is encouraging the country to reach its full potential or whatever, she’d have to order some drone strikes, authorize some surveillance, sign some highly partisan Democratic legislation, and campaign in harshly negative terms against Trump and other Republicans. Oprahism would get tangled up in standard liberalism, to the extent that it isn’t already, embittering right-wing fans and encouraging left-wing ones to stake ideological claims to it. We saw something like this play out already with Obama, didn’t we? It’s hard to remember now but he ran as a sort of post-partisan figure, someone who was liberal enough for Democrats but who promised to move Washington past left/right rancor and into an age of more or less harmonic pragmatism. He was anointed by Oprah herself in the primaries, John the Baptist heralding the coming of the messiah. In the end “pragmatism” Obama-style turned out to be liberalism. Oprahism will too.
But unless and until she wins, she’ll present herself like Obama did, as a healing figure who purports to rise above petty partisanship. I’m curious to see how NeverTrumpers react to that. Trump fans who see criticism of POTUS from the right as tribal treason will assume that NeverTrumpers will hop aboard the Oprah bandwagon, but I don’t think so. I think the surprise of the election will be that many anti-Trumpers on the right will hang with him reluctantly, seeing in Oprah someone who presents the worst of all worlds — a candidate who’ll govern reliably from the left but who has no governing experience. Hillary at least could claim that she’d seen the presidency up close in two different Democratic administrations, had operated at the highest levels, and knew how to staff up with seasoned pros. Oprah will be a complete cipher, even more so than then-Senator Barack Obama was — although not more so than Donald Trump was. If you’re a right-winger stuck with a choice between two celebrity ciphers, what’s the argument for preferring the one on the left? She’s “likable”? C’mon.