Drudge is hyping this as a 2020 match-up in the making but it’s overblown. She never says here that she’s thinking of running or wants to run; all she says (or implies) is that if Trump is qualified, she’s qualified. She declared she’d never run for office as recently as January of this year, when it was already abundantly clear that a celebrity with a gift for gab and a populist touch could win the presidency. Unless something’s happened in the past two months behind the scenes to change her mind, this is merely a statement about qualifications — in fact, mostly a dig at Trump’s lack thereof — rather than a statement of intent.
But … maybe something has happened behind the scenes? Democrats have been whispering about Oprah’s potential as a candidate for awhile. A week after the election, a frustrated Michael Moore said this:
“Democrats would be better off if they ran Oprah or Tom Hanks … why don’t we run beloved people?” Moore told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
“We have so many of them,” he said. “The Republicans do this — they run Reagan and the Terminator and other people.” It was a reference to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as former President Ronald Reagan.
“Why don’t we run somebody that the American people love and are really drawn to, and that are smart and have good politics and all that?” Moore said.
Trump wasn’t a “beloved” person — his favorable rating was negative even among Republicans when he first jumped into the race — but you see Moore’s point. Disentangling the electoral forces that got Trump elected will preoccupy both parties for year. How much was due to his celebrity? How much was due to his fondness for protectionism? How much was due to the sense that, as a billionaire businessman, he’d be good for the economy? How much was due to racial polarization? Where you come down on each of those questions will determine what sort of candidate you think Democrats should run in 2020 and beyond. If you think Trump won because of (or was significantly helped by) celebrity, you see the wisdom in nominating Oprah or Hanks. If you think it was because of protectionism, you’re probably leaning towards Elizabeth Warren. If you think it was the businessman factor, you might be open to Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg or, um, Disney chief Bob Iger, who’s reportedly considering a run. And if you think it was due to “white identity politics,” well, that’s tricky. In that case you might favor a white average-guy Democrat from the heartland to try to win those voters back or you might write them off for awhile and double down on a minority candidate who can reassemble the Obama coalition. Interestingly, Hanks and Oprah, the two potential candidates mentioned by Moore, would fill each of those niches, more or less.
Needless to say, though, some left-wing celebrity is going to test the “Trump won simply because he’s famous” theory by running himself, never mind that beating an incumbent president who’s already showed electoral strength in the Rust Belt is a much, much heavier lift than beating an unlikable dynast like Hillary Clinton. It could be that Democrats are already leaning on Oprah to think this through, as it’s evident that their bench in 2020 will be thin and there’s really no time to waste for her in building a political profile. Trump didn’t wake up in June 2015 and decide to give it a shot, after all; he’d spoken at CPAC before to try to build political credibility on the right and he’d spent months pushing Birtherism as far as back as 2011 to establish his “politically incorrect” brand with grassroots conservatives ahead of 2016. That is to say, although Trump proved that you need no government experience to get elected president, even he felt obliged to lay some sort of groundwork politically before entering the race. If Winfrey or Hanks are thinking about running, they should use the next 18 months to get themselves taken semi-seriously as political figures. If you see either of them start talking politics in interviews, you’ll know.
Two clips here, one of Oprah’s comments today and the other a blast from the past in which a young Donald Trump sounds a lot like an old Donald Trump.