WASHINGTON – Oprah 2020?
There are no rules anymore on how to become president.
Donald Trump vaulted off a reality television show.
Barack Obama jumped on the list of White House hopefuls the instant he finished his soaring 2004 Democratic convention speech – while still a candidate for a Senate seat from Illinois.
There are no rules.
What we know is that Oprah Winfrey’s uplifting powerful speech at the Golden Globes triggered speculation about a Democratic presidential bid.
My analysis is that Democrats – especially women – heard Winfrey’s speech not only as a call for Hollywood to get its own house in order – but as an anthem that the Trump era need not be extended to a second term.
Winfrey met the moment in her aspirational 1,000-word speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award where she covered everything from her own inspiring story to civil rights, to the need for a robust press to MeToo.
She captured the anger of women who been drawn to the organic MeToo movement – spawned in the wake of exposes about Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment in Hollywood and overall inequality in the industry.
“It’s up to the people,” her longtime partner, Stedman Graham told the Los Angeles Times after the show, adding a stunning velocity to this conversation.
“She would absolutely do it,” Graham said.
Is there something to this?
Winfrey holds a unique perch in our nation. She is a cultural icon since her days when she crossed divides with her TV talk show – which started as A.M. Chicago.
She is a self-made billionaire businesswoman. Winfrey is an actress, and a philanthropist. She industrialized empathy.
“There is possibly no other person in America who commands the attention that she does,” Democratic consultant Minyon Moore told me Monday.
Moore, a partner at Dewey Square Group – who got her start in Chicago politics – boiled it down to an essential question. “Will she have the stomach for this level of fight?”
Even if Winfrey wasn’t thinking about the White House on Sunday morning, could the Golden Globes nonetheless have launched her on something that could be real?
No Democrat right now is a 2020 front-runner.
David Axelrod, the Democratic strategist who advised Obama from his Illinois U.S. Senate bid to the White House, noted that the one-of-a-kind Winfrey has been able to cross lines in our society other people can’t.
She is an extraordinary communicator. The Sunday speech reminded us of that.
“It’s hard for me to imagine her doing it,” Axelrod said. “She’s got one of the greatest brands in the world and one of the reasons she does is because she knows who she is and she has avoided things that would undermine that.”
Winfrey is used to being in control. A presidential campaign – a president – is often chained to events that cannot be avoided..
“She has been the master of her universe for a very long time,” Axelrod said. “ And once you run for president, you are surrendering that.”
Then there is the backlash to Trump, whose presidency is hobbled because he’s never served in government until the White House.
“I just don’t know if Trump will create an appetite for someone who has some experience in government,” Axelrod said.
It may matter. It may not.
The frenzy over Winfrey in this polarized Trump era reveals a “yearning for someone like her, who could bring the country back together. …But there is a big leap between that warm feeling and the cold reality of running for president,” he said.
Ben LaBolt, a Democratic consultant, now a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive said, “Some would argue that we need the inverse of Donald Trump to win…I would argue that we need someone who will motivate a huge coalition of Americans,” said
A veteran of the Obama campaigns and his White House – who did communications for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first bid, LaBolt said of Winfrey, “She might not be a traditional candidate. That really doesn’t matter anymore.”