First, allow me to spend a moment on political theory. Professor Stephen Skrowronek, author of “The Politics Presidents Make” wrote that American Presidents (and by extension Presidential candidates) exist in “political” time. By this, he was referring to their relative ability to exercise - based on the political climate in which they operate - a warrant of authority attached to a partisan/ideological agenda. For example, the limitations of the Adams (Federalist) regime's ability to cope with the challenges facing the nation in 1800 provided an opportunity for a Jeffersonian “Reconstruction” that re-aligned power in this country, with the Democratic-Republicans becoming the majority, governing party at the national level until their “disjunction” under JQA and the rise of the Jacksonians.
His cyclical perspective caught my attention as an undergraduate, and it appeared to attach a coherent framework that explained why certain Presidents (such as GHW Bush) put themselves in electoral jeopardy by straying too far from the prevailing orthodoxies of his day (his decidedly non-Reaganite-seeming “no new taxes” pledge break, which helped bring about the Buchanan challenge) while others (such as Clinton) felt compelled to triangulate to retain office, knowing that the fundamental Reagan reconstruction constituted a functioning conservative governing majority in America, despite the Democratic win at the presidential level in ’92.
Which was why I was annoyed that Skowronek seemed to hedge his bets at the end of his work. I am going from memory here, so bear with me. As I recall, he projected an “end” to political time and a rise of ad hoc coalitions. Looking at the larger societal context in recent years, I was wondering if he was perhaps prescient and that we had entered (and this is my theory) a “cultural time” distinct from “political time” insofar as candidates who tapped into deeper cultural tropes would achieve electoral success. Enter Trump. Then again, I thought Trump would be a latter-day Horace Greeley and would go down in flames, although perhaps not in quite the same way as Mr. Greeley did in 1872 (look it up).
Now, in our post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-Iran-Contra, post-Whitewater, post-#43 Iraq lies era, trust in our public institutions (and most public office-holders) has eroded deeply. No wonder why we have all kinds of “cultural” (ostensibly but not really apolitical) figures who have emerged in the public dialogue (in varying degrees of seriousness) as potential 2020 presidential candidates: Mark Cuban, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Zuckerberg, Kanye West, Tom Hanks, and yes, Oprah Winfrey.
So perhaps Ms. Winfrey (yes, I am formal) would be the Democrat best situated to defeat Trump, assuming the latter runs for re-election. One could argue that we look at weak Presidents, like Trump, and (as a nation) we tend to look for candidates who are very much un-like them to make up for their shortcomings. To that end, one might argue that someone who has held elective office for years (say, a Senator or Governor) and who understands DC from that perspective might offer up a better contrast on the experience metric. That said, Ms. Winfrey who has held and sustained, for years, Name Identification and Favorability numbers that Biden, Sanders, Clinton, Warren, etc… can only dream of possessing should have no problems at all distinguishing her background, her persona, her policy stances, and her vision of America from that of Donald Trump.
And if she ran in the Democratic primary, with her formidable presence in American culture, her resources, and her media abilities, how could she be challenged effectively? Granted, she might turn out to be a terrible political candidate, but I doubt it. And how would a rival Democratic opponent offer up a comparative line of communications without looking like they are attacking OPRAH WINFREY?! Someone polling at 5% in Iowa who tries that three months out is looking at a career-ending event.
Would she be a good President? This is purely speculative but I believe she could perform quite well on certain measurements we use to rate performance. As has been discussed by others, yes, I think she would do well on the moral authority metric. I believe she has the ability to be a great communicator of American purpose in the world. Unlike #45, I think she would have extremely talented people in her Administration, people who could help her move a legislative agenda through Congress. I believe she has the skills to repair relations with world leaders. I believe she is a quick study and can grasp extremely complex issues. Does she have a traditional candidate profile? No, but perhaps she is the President that America will need.
In short, I am not going to be one of those folks who reject, out of hand, a Winfrey candidacy. We have done far worse and we have seen far weirder. Frankly, Winfrey’s ability to connect with the average person is something we, as a nation, desperately need…bearing in mind the out-of-touch, craven lunatic that resides at 1600 Pennsylvania. Let me tell you this – I would sleep much better at night knowing that President Winfrey is on the watch compared to DJT.