Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Oprah Winfrey made an incredibly rousing speech when she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes. The event was already historic, since Winfrey was the first African American woman to receive it, and she used the platform to send out a powerful endorsement of the #MeToo campaign.
The speech moved many to tears, and had Oprah’s fans clamouring for her to throw her hat into the 2020 presidential race. Born into poverty in Mississippi, Winfrey survived heinous sexual abuse and went on to host the world’s most successful talk show ever, become a major actress and build a massive media empire. She’s been suggested as a good fit for the Oval Office before; in 2002 filmmaker Michael Moore suggested she run, and there have often been whisperings about it in the following years.
Now, however, there seems a groundswell like never before. “Oprah for President” Tweets and headlines are popping up everywhere. Meryl Streep is among the legions of celebrities who have endorsed the idea, and Oprah’s already-robust public approval ratings are at an all time high. Could this really be happening?
A Public Trust of Celebrity
While it might seem strange at first, there is quite a long history of the public trusting celebrities with important civic duties – think Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Governor of California, or Ronald Reagan as the 40th President of the United States. Both were Hollywood stars before they were public servants.
Further afield soccer star George Weah has just been elected as Liberia’s President, film star Joseph Estrada was chosen to replace President Fidel Ramos after his crisis-plagued administration of the Philippines in the late 1990s, and in India there are often Bollywood stars elected into office. What all of these examples have in common is that there is a trust and identification with the endorsed celebrities. People believe that they hold the same values and understand normal civilians, while at the same time trusting them to put right what it seems career politicians have gotten wrong.
In this context, the election of businessman-turned-television star Donald Trump is understandable, especially when his appeal to blue collar working values is also factored in. So with her warmth, deep pockets and natural charisma, isn’t Oprah even more of a shoe-in than Trump was? Bookmakers certainly seem to think so; she is the second-likeliest to be voted in at most betting shops right now, coming in after Trump. Odds range from around 12/1 all the way to 2/1. If Trump can go from You’re Fired to the White House it’s easy to see why Oprah may not seem like such along shot anymore!
Still Not a Sure Thing
Not everyone would vote for Oprah; some research indicates the American public doesn’t want another celebrity in the White House and in certain focus groups even though Oprah got huge approval ratings, participants didn’t think she should run. There are also some serious and experienced politicians who are expected to announce their intention to run, so she’d be up against stiff competition.
Oprah seems to be teasing the public about whether she will run or not. She has unequivocally denied it in the past, but now she seems to be flirting with the idea. In an interview with Bloomberg she said Trump’s election made her realise she could run too, a statement met with applause by the studio audience, and her long-time partner Stedman Graham has said that “it’s up to the people” and that “she would absolutely do it”. Placing a bet on her to win now could be seen as premature, but it could also be serious forward thinking that results in a huge windfall.
The trend in the United States is usually to vote for the candidate who seems most likely to fix their predecessor’s mistakes. Oprah does seem very different to Trump in significant ways, from the fact that he grew up with wealth and advantages, to their differing opinions on current issues, but they are both television stars. This might make them appear too similar or even too frivolous. Of course, since we don’t even know if Oprah wants to run, all the speculation could be for naught, but watching it all pan out is certainly entertaining.