If She Runs, Oprah Would Likely Win the Nomination, But Be Ill-Suited to Beat Trump
I am honestly not sure which is worse: that we feel compelled to seriously discuss an Oprah Winfrey presidential run in January 2018, or that it is indeed an extremely legitimate topic for analysis.
After her speech at the Golden Globes last night and the rumors which quickly followed, an Oprah vs. Trump presidential race, which three years ago would have seemed like a tabloid media fantasy dream, is now at least a real possibility, if not a likelihood.
Before we get too carried away, there is still every chance that her potential candidacy is little more than a publicity stunt and at most a trial balloon. However, it has often been said that 90% of life is in the showing up, and we do have the first indications that by far the largest hurdle to an Oprah/Trump matchup may very well be cleared, because it seems as if she is willing to get in the race.
Let’s presume for a moment that Oprah does decide to run for president and that Trump chooses to try for reelection — and for the record, neither of these presumptions are remotely certain to actually happen. How then, would this scenario likely to play out? It seems we may already have a pretty decent idea.
I believe that Oprah would win the nomination in a crowded and unspectacular Democratic field. Ironically, a large part of why she would emerge victorious is because of the previously uncharted path which Trump paved through a much stronger GOP field in 2016 (which is an obvious reality that even Trump’s former press secretary doesn’t seem to realize/remember).
Much like Trump, Oprah would soak up ALL of the media oxygen in a Democratic race. She would be given roughly the same amount, if not more, of the same free media coverage which propelled Trump to the GOP nomination.
In many ways, this would then be a — somewhat counter intuitive — vindication of Trump’s recent (and accurate) declaration that the news media needs him to win reelection. It’s not so much that the media needs HIM to win, it’s that their broken business model requires someone LIKE him to win, or at least be his opponent. An Oprah/Trump matchup would be a short-term bonanza for the media, with no bad outcome — since they care not about the destruction of the country — in the long-term.
There is just no likely Democratic candidate who could possibly compete with Oprah in a multi-person race. And much like Trump, she would need to avoid a one-on-one battle with a decent traditional candidate. Women and minorities, the backbone of the Democratic primary electorate, are obviously her base and ensure her a reliable chunk of vote right from the start.
Her status as a liberal media Goddess would cloak her in a protective shield against any strong criticism. Like with Trump in 2016, though for different reasons, her opponents would be too afraid of offending her supporters to ever effectively take her out, or even damage her.
In short, as long as Barack and Michelle Obama gave her their blessing, or at least didn’t dissuade voters against her, it would take a real disaster for Oprah to not end up as the nominee. Effectively, Democrats would react to the horror of the Trump presidency in the same irrational way that Republicans did to Obama being reelected.
As for a general election against Trump (it would be rather hilarious if Democrats nominated Oprah thinking they were going up against Trump and it turned out, after Trump decided at the last minute that America has been made great again, that she ended up facing Mike Pence), while the media would obviously love it, it would not only be horrible for the country, but it might also be a great match up for our current president. In fact, a strong case could be made that Oprah is ill-suited to face Trump, one-on-one, in a general election.
Think about all of Trump’s strengths/weaknesses and how Oprah’s profile fails to provide a viable alternative.
- Trump is considered unqualified for the position, but he would then have far more qualifications than she would.
- Many people hate that Trump is really just a celebrity reality show star, which is exactly what Oprah is.
- Trump won in 2016 largely on the strength of support from white males, a demo where Oprah would do far worse than even Hillary Clinton, especially in swing states (the gender gap in an Oprah/Trump race would reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson racial divide).
- Trump is completely unafraid of attacking anyone and would actually relish doing so to a media-protected figure like Oprah, who has never really faced that treatment in her career and might have a “glass jaw.”
- Trump has already set the narrative that media criticism of him is not to be trusted and the media’s inevitable Obama-like swoon for Oprah would play right into that storyline.
- A large part of Trump’s appeal is a reaction of political correctness and the sense that we have gone soft as a nation, and Oprah would be seen as a big part of how those problems were created.
Now, this isn’t to say that Oprah wouldn’t have some advantages that other Democratic candidates would not — she obviously can go toe-to-toe with Trump when it comes to celebrity status and her use of television messaging — or that she would have no chance to beat him. For instance, I think she would likely do better in Florida and Michigan than Hillary did.
Having never been remotely a “swing voter” in my life, it is odd that in an Oprah/Trump battle I would be one (if I didn’t live in California). For the record, unless it becomes clear Trump really is mentally unfit for the office, I would vote for Trump.
Of course, the bigger issue here is whether the idea that we are even seriously discussing such a presidential matchup means that America, at least as we knew it, is already gone forever.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.