August 12th, 2020


What If O Ran As An I?

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published Jan. 12, 2018

Oprah Winfrey and longtime friend Maria Shriver. Shriver left the Democratic Party, re-registering as an independent. What if she advised Winfrey to do the same in 2020.

Amidst the hoopla over the thought of Oprah Winfrey as a presidential candidate, I'd like to offer this curveball: what if she went for it, but as an independent rather than a Democrat?

I'll grant you, it's not likely (that applies both to Oprah running and her leaving the party of Barack Obama).

But let's not forget three things:

First, not all Democratic power players are in love with the former queen of daytime television.

That would include RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United and a hurdle to clear if you want to have a progressive future in a blue stronghold like Golden State (the threshold question: where are you on single-payer care?).

Here's what she told The Sacramento Bee: "We just did this, and it's called Donald Trump. I can't even tell you what Oprah Winfrey stands for because I have no idea. She makes people cry a lot, I know that. She's got the heartstrings thing going."

DeMoro added: "Ultimately, the presidency is a job. And you want your most qualified people in that position. Not the most popular. Not (those with) name recognition. You want depth and substance. Let's talk about where this country is and needs to go."

Ouch. No free car for her.

The second consideration: other 2020 Democratic hopefuls throwing shade.

Let's say you're California Sen. Kamala Harris. What's fueling a "buy" rating on your presidential stock these days: gender, race (Harris is African- and Indian-American) and an ability to rekindle thoughts of Obama among fawning reporters. Oprah supplants Harris on all three fronts. Especially, the Obama kinship. Remember, she bought into "Hope" long before it became fashionable.

Aspiring politicians usually don't like to be big-footed or surrender to the notion of "forces beyond their control" (see the 2008 Democratic primaries). Would Harris gracefully concede to Oprah, or hire a couple of interns to spam the world with jpegs of Oprah embracing Harvey Weinstein.

The third consideration: Oprah's good friend, Maria Shriver.

After stepping down as California's First Lady in 2011, Shriver left her husband. And she left the Democratic Party, re-registering as an unaffiliated voter (in California parlance, "no party preference").

Oprah and Maria Shriver have been friends for four decades, dating back to their time together as young reporters at a Baltimore television station. Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger's appearance on Oprah's show in the closing weeks of the 2003 California recall election was their first joint sit-down interview in their marriage. Shriver's first planned tv appearance following her split from Schwarzenegger, eight years later: Oprah's farewell show.

Presuming Oprah would turn to Maria Shriver for political advice, she might hear something along the lines of what Shriver posted on her website last June:

"I accept that we are divided. I accept that the two-party system is divisive. I accept that the mainstream media and other media can and must do better. But, I don't believe we have to stay as-is.

Imagine if we all became Independents. Imagine if we all dropped the assumptions about the "other." Imagine if we got out of minding other people's business and used all that mental energy to focus on how we can be kinder, more loving, more compassionate, and more inclusive.

Imagine if we used our mental energy to focus on conversations that brought us together . . . and focused on issues that we could agree on.

Imagine the world that way, and then start building it --- conversation by conversation, idea by idea, thought by thought, issue by issue. Maybe start by thinking about the idea of shared national service. It would give us all a common experience and a common commitment to something larger than ourselves, like our country."

Oprah as an independent? Republicans would welcome it in a heartbeat, if for no better reason than the business of amassing electoral votes.

In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump picked up 204 electoral votes in states he carried by more than 5%; Hillary Clinton earned 200 electoral votes in blue +5 states.

That left 134 electoral votes up for grabs in states with a margin of under 5%. Four of those states -- Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire -- went outright to Clinton (sum total of 29 electoral votes). The lion's share -- 101 electoral votes split among Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin -- gave Trump the election.

Assuming a Winfrey run takes more from the Democratic than GOP side, those six Trump swing states would seem a more likely hold in 2020. Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee would struggle to retain Hillary's four swing states, not to mention two other light-two blue states -- New Mexico and Virginia, total of 18 electoral votes -- where a divided Democratic electorate would benefit Trump.

Collectively, that puts Trump past 350 electoral votes -- in the same territory as the two Obama presidential wins. And the Democratic Party? In the same position as Republicans in 1992 and 1912, when a third-party candidacy divided the GOP's voting bloc.

Oprah running in 2020? I wouldn't bet on it.

Democrats playing nice with her? Yes, if they ponder the alternative.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.