Oprah for US president? Golden Globes speech sparks fevered speculation

Actress and media mogul Oprah Winfrey has ignited buzz about a possible presidential run in 2020 with a stirring speech at the Golden Globes, followed by speculation from friends that she was considering a run.
Oprah Winfrey poses backstage with her Cecil B. DeMille Award in Beverly Hills, California, US on Jan 7, 2017.
Oprah Winfrey poses backstage with her Cecil B. DeMille Award in Beverly Hills, California, US on Jan 7, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP, REUTERS) - Could Oprah Winfrey run for president and beat Donald Trump?

Hollywood, liberals and ardent fans are abuzz with speculation that the billionaire chat show queen is harbouring White House ambitions after an impassioned Golden Globes speech on Sunday night.

The entertainment star, 63, gave an inspiring “new day” speech in support of those who have exposed sexual misconduct in Hollywood and beyond. 

She stole the show with her nine-minute speech upon receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award for achievement and lit up Twitter with a surge of tweets carrying “#Oprahforpresident” and “#Oprah2020." Hollywood glitterati attending the awards gave her two standing ovations.

“She had that room in her hands. It was like a campaign rally,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy.  

Winfrey is one of America's most famous women, a self-made tycoon born into poverty who was raised by a single mother, a story that resonates with many Americans.

Hollywood's loathing of Trump and bafflement that a crass-talking reality star with no previous government experience could win the presidency have fuelled talk of well, why not another television star, only one with the "right" politics?

 

While Winfrey herself has never stated any cut-and-dried desire to run for office - reportedly saying "I don't - I don't" backstage at the Globes when asked if she planned to run - her long-time partner suggested that she could be persuaded.

"It's up to the people," Stedman Graham was quoted as telling The Los Angeles Times. "She would absolutely do it."

"She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president," Meryl Streep told The Washington Post. "I don't think she had any intention (of declaring). But now she doesn't have a choice."

CNN quoted two anonymous "close friends" as saying Winfrey was "actively thinking" about a presidential run although stressing that she had not made up her mind.

If the speculation is wishful thinking, Winfrey's fame and wealth, extraordinary personal story overcoming poverty, teenage rape and pregnancy to build a US$2.6 billion (S$3.5 billion) fortune and Oscar-nominated acting career, would stack up nicely in her favour.

"I slept on it and came to the conclusion that the Oprah thing isn't that crazy," tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to Barack Obama, the president whom Winfrey was credited with helping to elect in 2008.

Trump would gladly face Winfrey as an opponent in the 2020 presidential race, a White House spokesman said on Monday.  “We welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else,” Hogan Gidley told reporters on Air Force One during a flight to Nashville on Monday. “We welcome all comers.”

A March 2017 poll by Quinnipiac University that handed Trump a 41 percent job approval rating, said 52 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Winfrey.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV that same month, she hinted that Trump's lack of government experience, had recalibrated her own thoughts.

"I thought, 'Oh gee, I don't have the experience, I don't know enough.' And now I'm thinking, 'Oh.'"

'Would she want to?' 

Three months later, Winfrey tweeted to her 41 million followers a link to a New York Post editorial that trumpeted her as the Democrats' best hope of beating Trump in 2020.

"You need a star - a grand, outsized, fearless star whom Trump can neither intimidate nor outshine," ran the editorial. "She can do it - in theory. The question is: Would she want to?" "Thanks for your VOTE of confidence!" responded Winfrey on Twitter.

 

Raised in Nashville, Milwaukee and Mississippi, she was raped as a 14-year-old by an uncle and became pregnant, until she miscarried the baby.

After college, she went into journalism before reigning for 25 years as queen of the US talk show, ushering in an era of confessional television before becoming the first black woman to own a television network.

At the start of the Golden Globes on Sunday, host Seth Meyers playfully encouraged Winfrey to run against Trump. Becoming the first black woman to accept the Cecil B. De Mille lifetime achievement award, her speech wove together gender, poverty and race.

"For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men," she said to a standing ovation. "So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon." Would the electorate be ready to put not just another television star but another political outsider in the White House?

"There's a feeling among many in the country that prior political experience is actually a deficit," said Cindy Rosenthal, political science professor at the University of Oklahoma.

But if politics is a money person's game, then the odds are still out.

"There is money around for Oprah, Michelle Obama and George Clooney - but the odds suggest The Donald is going to be hard to beat," said Rupert Adams, spokesman for global betting chain William Hill.

Trump benefited from his star power to win more free media exposure than his rivals in the Republican primary and was able to run a relatively inexpensive campaign.  His committee spent US$343 million in the primary and general election campaigns with the help of  US$47.5 million of the real estate developer’s own money, which he lent to the campaign and later forgave. 

Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, spent US$585 million including US$1.5 million of her own money. 

That said, Winfrey could supplement any campaign with her own wealth.

Jeffe, the USC professor, cautioned against thinking of Hollywood as a monolith of liberal Democrats. Besides the liberal creative talent, Hollywood money also comes from the more conservative, unionized trade and craft workforce as well as from the business interests. 

“She has credibility with all of them,” Jeffe said. 


Text of Oprah's full speech

In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother's house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: "The winner is Sidney Poitier." Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white, and of course his skin was black, and I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people's houses. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation in Sidney's performance in "Lilies of the Field":

"Amen, amen, amen, amen."

In 1982, Sidney received the Cecil B. DeMille award right here at the Golden Globes and it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award. It is an honor -- it is an honor and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them and also with the incredible men and women who have inspired me, who challenged me, who sustained me and made my journey to this stage possible. Dennis Swanson who took a chance on me for "A.M. Chicago." Quincy Jones who saw me on that show and said to Steven Spielberg, "Yes, she is Sophia in 'The Color Purple.'" Gayle who has been the definition of what a friend is, and Stedman who has been my rock -- just a few to name.

I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know the press is under siege these days. We also know it's the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To -- to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I'm especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.

But it's not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It's one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They're the women whose names we'll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they're in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They're part of the world of tech and politics and business. They're our athletes in the Olympics and they're our soldiers in the military.

And there's someone else, Recy Taylor, a name I know and I think you should know, too. In 1944, Recy Taylor was a young wife and mother walking home from a church service she'd attended in Abbeville, Alabama, when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road coming home from church. They threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone, but her story was reported to the NAACP where a young worker by the name of Rosa Parks became the lead investigator on her case and together they sought justice. But justice wasn't an option in the era of Jim Crow. The men who tried to destroy her were never persecuted. Recy Taylor died ten days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.

Their time is up. And I just hope -- I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on. It was somewhere in Rosa Parks' heart almost 11 years later, when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery, and it's here with every woman who chooses to say, "Me too." And every man -- every man who chooses to listen.

In my career, what I've always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere and how we overcome. I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. 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 of 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 ever has to say "Me too" again.