#Oprah2020? The Case Against the Outsider Candidate

Hillary Clinton was a political insider in the age of the political outsider. Indeed, prior to becoming President, Donald Trump held no form of political office and had virtually no political experience. Unfortunately, during his first year of office, this has become evident.

During one of the Republican Primary Debates, then-Presidential Candidate Trump was asked what his priorities were when it came to the United States’ nuclear triad. His response demonstrated a lack of knowledge of what the triad actually is. He answered by saying that ‘nuclear changes the whole ballgame… [the] biggest problem we have today is nuclear… the devastation is very important to me’.

Senator Rubio appeared to come to the future President’s aid by conceding that many people at home would not have heard of the nuclear triad at home, and then proceeded – in brief – to explain what it was to the audience.

Whilst this may be the most worrying example, Trump has demonstrated his lack of policy knowledge in other areas, too. Regarding his attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act, he said, for example, that ‘nobody knew health care could be so complicated’.

Although many did know, and Trump should have known, about healthcare, I am not questioning Trump’s general intelligence. I am questioning his knowledge of policy.

To take another example, the President confessed that when he met with President Xi Xinping of China to discuss the future of North Korea, ‘after listening for 10 minutes, I realized that it’s not so easy’.

Here, Trump is right. There is no formal class that one can take to prepare for public office. The best option is experience. But this comes with a caveat: one should not learn the job of President of the United States ad hoc. What is required is junior public office experience.

President Barack Obama (2009-2017) served as Senator from Illinois. Prior to this, he was a member of the Illinois State Senate. President George W. Bush (2001-2009) served as Governor of Texas. President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) was Governor of Arkansas, and before this, Attorney General of Arkansas. President George H. W. Bush served as Vice-President, Chair of the Republican National Committee, Ambassador to the United Nations and was a member of the House of Representatives – he had held other posts too.

I am not saying that all these people were great Presidents. Some, naturally, were better than others. Like Trump, previous Presidents have also made gaffes. However, none had such a consistently poor record as Trump, who has been caught out many times unprepared for the office of President.

In January, Oprah Winfrey delivered a speech at the Golden Globes that led many to begin talks of a possible Presidential run in 2020. Her speech, undeniably, was brilliant. It had a political charge to it, as she said that she values ‘the press more than ever as we try to navigate these complicated times’, a clear jab at President Trump’s attitude towards the media. She is a master orator and has remarkable personal credentials. Oprah is self-made. Indeed, her early life was harrowing. She has stated that at just the age of 9, she was molested by members of her own family. Other family members were so poor that they dressed in clothes made from potato sacks, for which she was mocked by her classmates. Today, she is worth around $3bn.

Oprah with Sen. Obama in Des Moines, Image Courtesy of Joe Crimmings via Flickr, © 2007, some rights reserved

Whilst impressive, this does not prepare somebody to become President of the United States. Oprah has never held any form of political office. The closest she came was the brief, but nevertheless substantial, role in the 2008 election by endorsing Barack Obama. Many pollsters noted the large swing towards Obama due to her campaigning. But Oprah herself has no experience of political office.

In many ways, Oprah would be a similar candidate to Donald Trump. They are both media personalities who have dominated American television for years. Both are political outsiders with little to no experience.

Yet, Democrats must be consistent. The principal criticism that the Democrats have of President Trump, at this moment, is his inexperience. However, State Representative Gild Cobb-Hunter said that he would ‘ask her [Oprah] to give it serious consideration. If anybody could bring us together, it’s her’. Brad Anderson, Obama’s re-election campaign manager in Iowa in 2012, said that ‘people could be looking for an outsider who could heal the country, and if that’s the case, I have no doubt that Oprah could be powerful’. If Democrats are willing to abandon the narrative of inexperience when it suits them politically, they will simply feed into the narrative that they are a lost, reactionary party in the wilderness. At this stage, Democrats have no reason to think that Oprah would be a more effective President than Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, it is understandable why these Democrats are searching for a unifying candidate. After all, the unifying candidate could be Oprah, because as it stands, it seems that the most likely insider-candidates for the Democratic party in 2020 will be Senator Bernie Sanders (he may claim to be an outsider but he has served in the House of Representatives for 16 years, and has represented Vermont in the Senate since 2006), Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former Vice-President Joe Biden. For various reasons, all of these candidates are deeply flawed. It is likely that Biden has the best chance, but at 75, it is unlikely he will run, particularly after the loss of his son, Beau, in 2015.

Oprah may well be a strong candidate in order to unify the party. It is also possible that she would be a great President. But for Democrats to stay on message, and expand their core base, they must look elsewhere.

2016 should have taught people that reality TV stars with no political experience do not make good Presidents. One day, an experienced Oprah could run for President, but not in 2020.



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