Oprah Winfrey‘s epic Golden Globes speech made her a trending topic on Twitter and a potential presidential candidate, per the hashtag #Oprah2020. But what does it take to score the most powerful job in the land? And could Winfrey actually win?
On Sunday, Oprah became the first black woman recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille award. As she delivered her acceptance speech, honoring civil rights activists Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks and the women behind Time’s Up, a new initiative to support sexual harassment victims, Twitter held an unofficial election.
If @Oprah ran for president in 2020, she is every person. She has been poor & now rich. She is also a self made Billionaire. She has a grasp of the issues as she used to cover local politics. She can articulate any issue and she has mass appeal beyond race & gender.
— AprilDRyan (@AprilDRyan) January 8, 2018
— Nate Berkus (@NateBerkus) January 8, 2018
Oprah: Sounder on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands Middle America better than Elizabeth Warren, less touchy-feely than Joe Biden, more pleasant than Andrew Cuomo, more charismatic than John Hickenlooper.#ImWithHer
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) January 8, 2018
Why this massive #Oprah2020 moment?
Because Oprah is the antithesis of Trump: A well-spoken, incredibly smart & confident black woman, who energizes people not with hatred & anger, but with hope & vision. When we hear her speak, it reminds us of who we can be as a country.
— Like, Totally Stable Genius (@dvorakoelling) January 8, 2018
— april (@adwill123) January 9, 2018
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) January 8, 2018
On Monday, the chatter grew so loud that the White House responded. “We welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said aboard Air Force One, as reported by the New York Daily News. (Even Ivanka Trump tweeted praise of Winfrey’s speech, for what it’s worth, in a move that many found ironic.)
Winfrey’s bestie, Gayle King, addressed the speculation on Tuesday morning from her post as a co-host of CBS This Morning. “I don’t think she’s actively considering it at this time,” she said. “I do think she’s intrigued by the idea, I do think that. I also know that after years of watching the Oprah show, you also always have the right to change your mind.”
The idea of Winfrey, 63, as president, isn’t new — on Sunday, Golden Globes host Seth Meyers remarked, “In 2011, I told some jokes about our current president at the White House Correspondents Dinner, jokes about how he was unqualified to be president. And some have said that night convinced him to run. And if that’s true, I would just like to say, ‘Oprah, you will never be president!’”
Sunday night, Stedman Graham endorsed his partner of 31 years. “It’s up to the people,” he told the Los Angeles Times after the show. “She would absolutely do it.” Meryl Streep expressed her support for a Winfrey presidency to the Washington Post. “I don’t think she had any intention [of declaring]. But now she doesn’t have a choice.”
Fueling speculation are two “sources” identified as Winfrey’s friends who told CNN that she is “actively thinking” about running.
However, Winfrey has at times flat-out rejected the idea. In October 2017, during an interview on CBS This Morning, when King said, “People ask it all the time. Even I am now starting to think the rules have changed about running for president,” Winfrey replied that her friend had “lost her mind now,” and added, “There will be no running for office of any kind for me.”
And in June 2017, Winfrey told the Hollywood Reporter, “I will never run for public office. That’s a pretty definitive thing.”
Other times, Winfrey has been vague. On Sunday night, when the Los Angeles Times asked the mogul if she’d make a run, she answered, “Okaay.”
And in December 2016, while discussing President Trump’s win, Bloomberg TV’s David Rubenstein asked Oprah if she’d run, saying, “It’s clear you don’t need government experience to be elected president of the United States.” Oprah replied, “That’s what I thought. I thought, ‘Oh gee, I don’t have the experience, I don’t know enough.’ And now I’m thinking, ‘Oh.’”
If Winfrey were to run, she’d have to meet three requirements, according to USA.gov: be a natural-born citizen (check), at least 35 years old (check), and a U.S. resident for 14 years (check). She would then have to raise $5,000 in contributions and register a “Statement of Candidacy” with the Federal Election Commission before kicking off her campaign.
Historically, presidents and presidential candidates build résumés fit for the White House. Barack Obama was a law professor, a state senator, and a U.S. senator from Illinois. George W. Bush served in the Air National Guard and as governor of Texas, and Bill Clinton was an attorney general and the governor of Arkansas.
There are exceptions, of course: Before becoming governor of California, President Ronald Reagan was a famous Hollywood actor, even serving as the president of the Screen Actors Guild; and President Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer before becoming governor of Georgia. The best example of an unconventional path, though, is President Trump, who went from real estate mogul/socialite to reality star to POTUS.
So the idea of Oprah Winfrey running for the nation’s highest office isn’t that crazy. As the Biography site summarizes her life, she was the first black woman to host a national talk show, which ran for 25 seasons; she was the country’s first black billionaire; and she was named the Greatest Black Philanthropist in American History by Business Week in 2005.
Winfrey has also dabbled in policy, proposing a database for convicted child abusers, which President Clinton signed into law in 1994, and joining Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007. When Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, she had Winfrey’s endorsement.
“Oprah’s potential as a presidential candidate was high, well before her Golden Globes speech,” Ron Sachs, a media consultant and CEO of Sachs Media Group, a communications agency, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “She’s a respected figure with crossover appeal to either party because she’s demonstrated a humanitarian heart, thought leadership, and the ability to be a game-changer.”
And proper political chops may not be necessary. “As a successful businessperson, she has experience in problem-solving and how to give and take counsel,” he says.
That said, it’s easier to predict Oprah’s odds of success when she’s not actually running for office. “One has to compromise to advance certain issues,” says Sachs. “Right now she doesn’t have to do that.”
While candidates often choose their running mates to present a more balanced ticket and attract a wider audience, the media mogul is a one-woman show. “A running-mate value wouldn’t help Oprah get elected,” adds Sachs. “Her singular appeal is more than adequate to be a viable candidate.”
If Winfrey did run for president, Trump would be hard-pressed to campaign for reelection. Back in 1999, when MSNBC asked who he’d pick for his theoretical running mate, he name-checked Oprah. “Well, I would consider, and as Chris [Matthews] can tell you, I threw out the name of a friend of mine, who I think the world of. She’s great. And some people thought it was an incredible idea, some people didn’t, but — Oprah. I said, ‘Oprah Winfrey,’ who’s really great. And I think we would be a very formidable team.”
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