It is a sign of the post-reason era in which we live that the title “President Oprah” does not automatically provoke a chuckle or two. But “President Trump” was once a throwaway joke in a 2000 episode of The Simpsons, and nobody’s laughing anymore. Or if they are, it’s for all the wrong reasons. It would be a mistake, therefore, to presume that an Oprah presidency is beyond the realm of possibility.
It would also be unwise to underestimate Oprah’s potential effectiveness as a candidate. Even prior to her Golden Globes speech that had NBC prematurely declaring her our next president, Oprah’s wattage burned brighter than any other star in the celebrity firmament. Indeed, Donald Trump floated her name as a potential veep back in 1999, back when the thought of a President Trump was genuinely ridiculous.
Oprah was more famous than Donald back then, and she’s arguably at least as famous as he is now, even after he won the White House. She also reads more than he does – she had her own book club, remember? – and has a charisma surplus that Trump would be hard pressed to match. So many Democrats are asking an obvious question – why not fight celebrity with celebrity?
Oprah is no less ignorant of Washington workings than Trump
The obvious answer to that question is that the skillset for a TV personality doesn’t necessary translate well into presidential politics. Donald Trump’s profound ignorance into the workings of Washington is endearing to many, but it means that the tax cut bill he recently signed is the only legislative accomplishment of his first year in office. Oprah appears to be equally ignorant, although she’s less likely to flaunt her political experience in a tweet-storm of nonsense. Wouldn’t Democrats prefer to counter am incompetent president with a wonky Washington insider?
That’s the eat-your-vegetables approach that didn’t work for the eminently qualified Mitt Romney and/or Hillary Clinton, and it’s unlikely to provide any impediment to Oprah. She’s not just a star – she’s the mother confessor to all of Middle America. Her everywoman status will provide her with plenty of forgiveness if she comes up short on policy, which she is more than likely to do. This was part of Trump’s appeal, too. He wasn’t just another Washington politician – he’s just a regular guy.
But, of course, he isn’t a regular guy by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is Oprah. Not only is she, like Trump, a celebrity billionaire, but her personal life doesn’t necessarily play in Peoria. A never-married single woman with a longtime beau and a curiously close friendship with Gayle King that has been the subject of rumors for decades, Oprah has largely managed to avoid the disapproval of morality scolds, largely because people don’t expect traditional behavior from their TV stars. It wasn’t that long ago that they expected some semblance of normalcy from their presidents, but Trump appears to have changed all that. So it may well be that nobody is going to care about any skeletons in Oprah’s closet.
Nobody, that is, except Oprah herself.
If Oprah runs for President, she will be putting herself in the spotlight like never before
This has to give her pause. Does she really want Sean Hannity leading off his radio shows with salacious speculation about she and Gayle are doing when the cameras are off? Does she want to face farmers in Iowa who ask her when she and that nice Stedman are finally going to settle down? A presidential campaign would open her up to a level of scrutiny she has never experienced. She would also inspire nearly half of America to hate her overnight. Can someone accustomed to being universally beloved adjust to the tribal hostility that is inseparable from the current partisan divide?
Early reports suggest she’s intrigued by the possibility, but who wouldn’t be? It’s one thing to have everyone on Facebook and Twitter posting #OprahforPresident memes, but it’s quite another to get down to the serious business of launching a White House run. It would be nice to be able to confidently dismiss the possibility of yet another vapid television personality jumping into the presidential ring as beyond ridiculous. But the phrase “President Trump” isn’t a punchline anymore, so it would be unwise to laugh when anyone says “President Oprah.”
(Photo of Oprah with then-Senator Barack Obama at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007 by Joe Crimmings)