The future of politics could look a bit more like the Golden Globes.
Oprah Winfrey’s campaign-style speech at the awards ceremony Sunday night sparked rumors that she could run for president in 2020. NBC referred to the talk-show host as “OUR future president” in a now-deleted tweet that the company is now blaming on a third party contractor.
CNN’s lead story Monday was that Oprah is “actively thinking” about running for president, according to two of her friends, both of whom remained anonymous. The network pushed the Oprah narrative hard, giving their audience live updates on the 2020 rumors.
“Oprah hits all the right notes at just the right time for a media obsession. She’s not a white man, she’s liberal, she’s flirted with the notion of running, she’s a voice for women and the abused in a sullied Hollywood industry, she’s famous,” observed Axios’ Shane Savitsky. “She’s the anti-Trump, which helps explain this morning’s over-the-top political speculation about a nine-minute speech.”
Whether or not she runs, the media frenzy surrounding the Oprah 2020 rumors demonstrates the appeal celebrity candidates hold in the viral media age, where clicks and shares drive news coverage. Donald Trump’s outsider presidential campaign in 2016 succeeded in large part due to Trump’s ability to dominate news coverage. The real estate mogul and reality TV star’s ability to entertain as a candidate earned him an estimated $2 billion in free media coverage during the Republican primary.
“We are now as a nation, we’re not just looking for a politician, we’re looking for a rock star. Once Barack Obama left, I knew there with was going to be a rock star because no one else could fill the position. We’re not just looking for a politician, we’re looking for someone who has got that ‘it’ factor. Oprah has that,” CNN’s April Ryan said Monday, adding that “we’re looking for excitement with our politics.”
President Trump is just the most recent celebrity to successfully make the jump from entertainment to politics.
Former Hollywood star Ronald Reagan served two terms as California governor and another two terms as president. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a body-builder and movie star before serving as governor of California from 2003 to 2011. Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura for four years between 1999 and 2003. Former comedian Al Franken won election in 2006 as the Democratic Senate candidate in Minnesota. Franken won re-election in 2012 before resigning this month after a series of sexual misconduct allegations.
Trump, the first president with no military or government experience, represented a milestone for celebrity politicians. Now, some Democrats are searching for a celebrity to counter Trump’s star-power.
“Democrats would be better off if they ran Oprah or Tom Hanks,” left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore said following Trump’s electoral victory. “Why don’t we run beloved people? We have so many of them. The Republicans do this — they run Reagan and the Terminator [Schwarzenegger] and other people.”
Oprah isn’t the only celebrity mentioned as a possible Democratic counter to Trump. Former pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Kanye West have all been floated in the media as possible presidential candidates. Kid Rock earned ogles of free publicity by hinting that he would run against Democratic Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018. Rock later said the entire thing was a stunt, laughing: “Who couldn’t figure that out?”
In the Trump era, media outlets are less hesitant to rule anybody out — provided they have enough name recognition.