Oprah Winfrey's powerful Golden Globes speech, Politico's Annie Karni realizes, "led to a wistful question, posed by Hillary Clinton fans watching the Oprah 2020 frenzy play out this week: Where the heck was Winfrey in 2016?"
Winfrey was not invisible, for she
had initially raised hopes in Clinton’s camp by telling “Entertainment Tonight,” during a red-carpet interview, that “I’m with her” — a quick-hit endorsement that buoyed spirits at campaign headquarters, especially because the campaign operatives had not helped Winfrey craft it, or planted it....
A month before the election, she had added
“You don’t have to like her. Do you like this country? Do you like this country? You better get out there and vote. ... Do you like democracy or do you want a demagogue?”
Karni reports "that comment further deflated the Brooklyn-based Clinton crew," as well as it should have.
By contrast, longtime Clinton confidante Phillip Reines argued “The excitement triggered by celebrities might not be as transferable to a political candidate as it is to a sneaker or hotel chain. Hard to argue that a Kim Kardashian tweet would have flipped the outcome.”
Sorry, but comparing national superstar Oprah Winfrey to Kim Kardashian is like comparing the popular and extraordinarily accomplished Tom Hanks to a pornographic film star. Kardashian is not a porn performer but she appeals to a certain segment of the electorate while alienating a larger number. Vox's Constance Grady notes that Janice Peck, author of "The Age of Oprah," recognizes
that Oprah’s ability to connect with her audience is in and of itself political. Part of the secret to her enduring appeal, Peck says, is her ability to keep white women — her biggest demographic — from thinking of her as black. “You have all these white fans who have historically talked about her as if she is a personal friend of theirs, as if she could come into their homes,” Peck said, “which of course she did, on their TV screens.”
Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Donald Trump. That percentage probably would not have dropped dramatically had Winfrey campaigned for Clinton as she did for Senator Obama in 2008 but as Peck notes, “She understands how to connect with audiences and give them what they want at a particular time. She’s always been very smart at figuring at who her audience is and how to resonate with them.”
Supporting Reines' perspective, Karnie argues "even a joint Beyoncé-Jay-Z concert and rally for Clinton in Cleveland in the homestretch of the race didn’t deliver the bellwether state of Ohio to Clinton’s column on election night."
That's accurate, and a huge, seemingly successful, rally in Philadelphia with the Clintons, the Obamas, and Boss Springsteen the night before the election culminated in an unexpected Trump victory in Pennsylvania the following day.
But we didn't know all this at the time, and neither did Winfrey. Conventional (and nearly unanimous) wisdom held that properly targeted celebrity endorsements- such as by beloved black figures in the city of Cleveland and in the city of Philadelphia (with a gigantic white star)- can only help a Democratic candidate.
Consequently, the question arises: where was Oprah? Karnie points out that longtime Clinton adviser Minyon Moore, who has contact(s) in the Winfrey camp, reasons
Oprah has a brand that is built on a capitalist society. Any time someone like that opens their mouth to support a political candidate, they have something at risk. Most of them do this based on their own value system. I have learned to be grateful, because they have empires of their own.
That was from an apparent admirer. Publicly, Oprah Winfrey was apolitical until she endorsed candidate Obama in September 2006, then again in October 2006 and May 2007, followed by her first campaign appearance with the candidate, in December, 2007.
Following her fellow Chicagoan's acceptance speech at the convention, the new-age television superstar, still an actress, commented "what I saw with Barack Obama was something that was transcendent and I felt transformational for me as a human being and for this country." One researcher maintains that Winfrey's support of Obama's bid "does appear to have been a decisive, if not a deciding, factor." All in a good cause, at least.
And yet, Oprah's support of the Democrat who was striving to replace Obama and to continue most of his policies was tepid at best. Largely apathetic pre-Obama and post-Obama, Oprah Winfrey has excited Democrats- including pols- from coast-to-coast. It is thoroughly understandable, given the Party's yearning for a glamorous superstar to replace the business giant in the Oval Office.
Nevertheless, given her apparent centrist bent, disinterest in Democratic races for President and Congress, and complete absence of qualifications for the position, the hankering for Winfrey is borderline reprehensible and threatens the effort to reverse the damage undertaken by the alliance of President Trump and congressional Republicans.