opinion

NEW DAY

Oprah 2020 Is No Joke—This Really Could Work

The Democratic Party needs a leader like Oprah Winfrey to reinvigorate its most dedicated voter base: black women.

opinion

There was something in the grace and power of Oprah Winfrey’s words as she addressed the Golden Globes and much of the nation. Something in the grand gravitas of Oprah that made Twitter start lighting up before she was even done speaking—lots of people tweeting about Oprah 2020. It was like they were trying to coax a presidential bid into existence by retweet.

As Oprah’s speech ended with her rousing call—“A new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns it will be because a lot of magnificent women…!”—it sounded and it felt like a political rally. A rally for love and empowerment and inclusion. And as she ended the way a great political speaker does, that way of talking over the cheers to create a big finish, that’s when you could feel the idea rising in a thousand minds and see it bubbling up on Twitter—Oprah for president!

We’ve shared this idea before as a country, about Oprah running for president, and she’s said she’s not interested, she said it again last night after the Globes, but that’s what people say until the day they throw their hat in the ring.

I don’t think we’ve seen Oprah make the sorts of small gestures that signal serious political interest, like a well-timed trip to Iowa, but she’s a figure of such immense size in American life that if she were to decide she wanted to be president she could become a very serious candidate—staffed up, war chest full—very quickly. People are interested in her as a leader—she polls well and even beats Trump in head-to-head matchups.

Of course those numbers would change the moment she got in the race, but Oprah 2020 cannot be laughed off. This could really work. And it points toward a lot of what the Democratic Party needs right away to stave off a scary problem.

The core of the Democratic Party’s base is black women, especially older black women. No group of voters is more dependably Democratic than them—70 percent of eligible black women voted in 2008 and 2012, the highest voter turnout of any demographic group.

These are people who feel, because of their history, that it’s imperative that they vote. And some measures suggest they may be slowly slipping away from the Democratic Party’s grasp. A Black Women’s Roundtable/ESSENCE poll released in 2017 found: “The belief that the Democratic Party best represents the interest of black women has dropped significantly in a year, from 85 percent to 74 percent.”

In fact, more black women think that none of the political parties represent them well, up to 21 percent from 13 percent in 2016. Add to this a 2017 open letter to the Democratic National Committee from a slew of black congresswomen explaining their growing frustration with black women being influential Democratic voters but insufficiently influential voices inside the party.

This is a harbinger of disaster. Black women are critical to the Democratic Party and a party that doesn’t serve its base will not survive.

Black women are starting to notice that their loyalty is not being rewarded. They’re demanding more and so far not getting much. This is not a group the party can afford to lose. When your back is to the wall and you need to win, you go to your strength.

The Dems need a win and their strength is black women and Oprah is a hero to many of them, as well as someone who millions of white Americans already love. Who better than Oprah to feed the base and try to recreate the large, winning, multiracial Obama coalition? And who better than Oprah put a fresh new non-politician face on the Democratic Party and make Americans feel listened to?

Oprah addresses the Dems’ potential problems with black women in a way that few potential candidates could, with the exception of California Senator Kamala Harris. But where Harris is still growing her fame, Oprah is already a household name—for years she’s been the No. 2 or No. 3 most admired woman in the country.

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Raising money would not be an issue for her—her personal network is extensive and her ability to get people to buy into a movement around her is legendary. She can speak knowledgeably about business and spirituality and no one is better at marketing big positive ideas—voters will know Oprah will not only protect the Afforable Care Act, she’ll also, somehow, get kids to eat vegetables.

A candidate is always enhanced by having a great personal story and Oprah’s tale of rising from poverty in Mississippi to becoming a billionaire is inspirational, especially because it’s fueled by a brand that’s about inspiration, self-love, and down-home charm.

She’s been in the public eye for decades and has never had anything close to a serious scandal. She’s clean. The oppo research guys are going to be bored with what they find.

Perhaps part of why Oprah for president excites so much is because in many ways she’s exactly what we need in politics. She’s a great communicator—I can hear her giving great, soaring addresses that call us to help her create a better tomorrow.

She will clearly explain what we’re doing and why. And she will restore dignity to the office. And, I hate to use this word but, she’s a uniter. That word is so corny, but it’s a political signifier, and where the president’s aim is to excite his base by attacking the left, Oprah’s whole ethos is to bring people together and coaxing them to live their best lives.

Oprah could run a campaign built around that theme—let’s come together as a nation and together live our best life. It’s not a slogan for a bumper sticker, it’s just a thesis for a campaign and if she offered that deal to the country it would be a very compelling offer.