She’s not running. And, for that matter, neither is he.
Seeming to settle the debate once and for all, Oprah Winfrey made it explicitly clear that she has no plans to run for office—presumably including that of the president—during a conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda during a mega-taping of her SuperSoul Conversations series Wednesday afternoon at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater.
During a discussion about the “moral clarity” he felt after Donald Trump’s election, Miranda said that he’s aware of the social platform his fame and the success of Hamilton has given him. “But that’s it,” he said. “I’m not running for public office.”
Without skipping a beat, Winfrey interrupted. “I’m not either!” she bellowed in that signature Winfrian way, before deadpanning out to an audience that promptly lost its mind with shocked screams, laughter, and applause.
And with that, your dream 2020 ticket—or, depending on how you feel about celebrity presidents, your nightmare—was no longer.
“Oprah is a more powerful position than president,” Miranda joked once the raucous reaction died down, distilling a crucial point that had wafted around the think pieces about a potential Winfrey presidential run: We don’t need Oprah to be president. We need Oprah to be Oprah.
The idea that the media mogul running for president could be a reality manifested in earnest after Winfrey delivered a galvanizing, politically charged speech at January’s Golden Globe Awards, where she received the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award.
While Winfrey herself never declared any intention of running, her words in support of the free press, encouraging hope against tyranny, and hailing the dawn of a new era for women and the marginalized in the wake of the Time’s Up movement had hopeful pundits ruling it less of an acceptance speech and more of a stump speech.
“I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who have withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality that all of them seem to share is the ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights,” she said.
By the time she got to her powerful conclusion, the celebrities in attendance were already on their feet, having started their standing ovation midway through the speech: “So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns it will be because of a lot magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody has to say, ‘Me too,’ again.”
#Oprah2020 began trending immediately on social media. When Winfrey’s partner Stedman Graham told a Los Angeles Times reporter that “it’s up to the people if she’d run” and “she absolutely would do it,” it poured gasoline on a fire of punditry that blazed across cable news and the blogosphere for weeks.
Winfrey had seemingly put the matter to bed in an InStyle magazine cover story that published at the end of January, saying she doesn’t “have the DNA for it”: “I’ve always felt very secure and confident with myself in knowing what I could do and what I could not. And so it’s not something that interests me.”
But even that couldn’t silence the buzzsaw when Winfrey’s other life partner, best friend Gayle King, clarified that she had given the InStyle interview weeks before the Golden Globes and was in fact still considering running.
Winfrey’s no media novice. She knew what it would mean to say anything about public office or running for president during her SuperSoul Conversations in front of a live audience that included several journalists, including this reporter. Had she not wanted a denial to be definitive, or the entire discussion to be dredged up in the press again, she would not have mentioned it at all.
So for now, at least, as Miranda says, we’ll have to settle for Winfrey’s reign as the true most powerful person in the world: herself.