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Jacob Heilbrunn Politics

An Oprah Winfrey bid for the White House should trouble Trump

January 9, 2018

11:00 AM

9 January 2018

11:00 AM

Will the Trump presidency be replaced by the Winfrey one? The hunt is on for a celebrity to take on Donald Trump and right now America has been seized by feverish speculation that Oprah Winfrey is it. On Sunday night, Winfrey accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, where she delivered a speech that pointed to ‘a time when no one will have to say “Me Too” ever again’. ‘A new day’, she said, ‘is on the horizon’. The kudos keep pouring in. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, an inveterate Never Trumper, called it ‘spine-tingling’. She’s certainly locked down the Hollywood contingent: Reese Witherspoon said: ‘It sounds right’. And Winfrey’s longtime companion Stedman Graham, when queried about whether she views herself as presidential timber, responded by saying: ‘It’s up to the people. She would absolutely do it’.

This is not the first time that her name has surfaced as a prospective political candidate. In 1999, Joshua Green, the author of Devil’s Bargain, a biography of Steve Bannon, notes that Trump was flirting with the idea of running for president on the New York Reform Party ticket and said that Oprah would be his dream running mate. Since then, her star has only risen. Her endorsement of Barack Obama during the primaries delivered a body blow to Hillary Clinton in 2008, helping him to secure the nomination. At this point, Winfrey is probably one of the most trusted public figures in America. Given Winfrey’s amazing Horatio Alger-like rise from poverty to riches, it might not be too much to call her a stable genius.

Like Trump, who originally ran for the presidency to capture the limelight, Winfrey knows that speculation about her political intentions is a savvy business move. Like Trump, she is a branding wizard, with her Oprah’s Book Club, O magazine, Oprah radio, and so on. Like Trump she has a big property that could serve as a nice winter White House—her £67m ($90m) estate in Montecito, California.

But could she really become the it girl of the Democratic party, rumbling with Trump in 2020? Already members of the Washington establishment are cautioning that what’s required, after a dose of Trump, is political experience—a steady hand at the tiller, as it were, to navigate the turbulent international and domestic seas that keep buffeting America. But Winfrey would certainly be a marvellous brand ambassador, helping to buff America’s tarnished image abroad.

Trump himself would find it far more difficult to deal with a polished figure from the entertainment world than a traditional politician. His calling card, after all, has been that he is a Washington outsider who routinely blows a raspberry at the regnant elites. It may be too early for Winfrey to starting measuring the drapes for the Oval Office but right now her chances should not be discounted. It is both a measure of the desperation of liberal Democrats and an inadvertent tribute to Trump’s ability to upend American politics that Winfrey would even be considered a serious candidate. If Winfrey starts burnishing her foreign policy credentials by visiting foreign capitals and assembling her own team of advisers, then you’ll know that she is very serious indeed about having a go at replacing Trump. The show, as she knows, must go on and there is no better stage for her than the White House.


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