It all got brought back up again, at first, because of a joke.
Golden Globes host Seth Meyers stood before Oprah Winfrey, who was set to receive the Cecil B. DeMille award Sunday night and was sitting in the very front of the room. As Meyers opened the awards show, he mentioned his 2011 White House correspondents’ dinner gig, the one where he joked about Donald Trump not being qualified for president.
“Some have said that night convinced him to run. So, if that’s true, I just want to say: Oprah, you will never be president! You do not have what it takes. And Hanks! Where’s Hanks? You will never be vice president. You are too mean and unrelatable. Now we just wait and see.”
Winfrey burst into laughter. But an hour later, she took the stage to deliver an incredibly rousing speech that was both personal and a universal call to action. “I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon,” she said to thunderous applause.
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She brought the crowd at the Beverly Hilton to its feet. On social media, chatter built about her presidential prospects.
“It’s up to the people,” her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. “She would absolutely do it.”
Her best friend, Gayle King, told the outlet: “I thought that speech was incredible. I got goose bumps.”
That night, the Los Angeles Times told Winfrey that “the internet is saying Oprah for president in 2020. What does Oprah say?”
“I say, I’m just glad I got through the speech!” she answered. “I thought a lot about it. I wanted this to be a meaningful moment.”
But would she consider a 2020 presidential run? “Okaay!” she reportedly responded.
CNN, citing two anonymous sources, said Winfrey’s confidants have been urging her for months to run for office. Brad Anderson, the Iowa state director for President Barack Obama’s reelection, tweeted, “Call me Oprah. I’ve got some Iowa county chairs who would love to hear from you.”
In the past, Winfrey has definitely shut down the suggestion. She told The Hollywood Reporter in June, “I will never run for public office. That’s a pretty definitive thing.”
There have also been several moments where Winfrey has teased at the possibility. In September, she tweeted out a New York Post column with the headline, “Democrats’ best hope for 2020: Oprah.”
Tagging the author, she wrote, “Thanks for your VOTE of confidence!”
In a March interview with Bloomberg TV’s David Rubenstein asked Winfrey about her 2020 plans. As The Post’s Helena Andrews-Dyer reported:
Have you ever thought that, given the popularity you have - we haven’t broken the glass ceiling yet for women - that you could actually run for president and actually be elected?” asked Rubenstein.
The live audience, predictably, went a little nuts at the mere mention of Winfrey’s name in connection (even hypothetically) to the White House. For her part, Winfrey, who has been in the TV business for nearly 40 years, paused for dramatic effect.
“I never considered the question even a possibility,” she said, before adding, “I just thought, ‘Oh . . . oh?’”
Without mentioning President Trump’s name, Rubenstein then pointed out that “it’s clear you don’t need government experience to be elected president of the United States.”
“That’s what I thought,” Winfrey said. “I thought, ‘Oh gee, I don’t have the experience, I don’t know enough.’ And now I’m thinking, ‘Oh.’ “
King, Winfrey’s best friend, tried to clear things up the next day. “It was clearly a joke,” King said on CBS. “I also heard on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ over the years you always have the right to change your mind, but I would bet my first, second born and any unborn children to come, that ain’t never happening.”
Honestly, the tweets, the comments - they all could have been fun little jokes. But it’s no longer all that far-fetched to think that someone known primarily for their work on TV and with absolutely no governing experience could not only run for president but also win. And connecting an uber-popular name like “Oprah” with “presidential campaign” is naturally going to generate loads of excitement. (Also, let’s not forget the speculation about “The Rock 2020″).
Then there’s her popularity. A March 2017 Quinnipiac University poll found Winfrey had a 52 percent favorable rating (and just a 23 percent unfavorable rating). She was most popular with Democrats (72 percent) and independents (51 percent). But that doesn’t mean those polled wanted her to throw her hat into the ring; just over one in five said Winfrey should run in 2020, and 69 percent said she shouldn’t.
For most of her time as a daytime talk show host, Winfrey avoided bringing politicians on for interviews.
“I didn’t want to delve into the world of politics because I felt I lost control,” she said on the “Making Oprah” podcast. “I can’t get them to actually respond because a skilled politician knows how to give the answer they want.” She ended up breaking with that stance in 2000, when she gave equal time to both major party candidates: Al Gore and George W. Bush. (Bush’s approval ratings jumped that week.)
Then, in 2004, she heard Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention. Thoroughly impressed, she brought the senator onto her show in 2006. When he ran for president in 2008, she publicly endorsed him. Winfrey - who commanded a viewership of tens of millions of loyal women - for the first time publicly put her formidable stamp of approval on a candidate.
“It came from such a pure instinctive place,” she said on the podcast. “I didn’t even think about it in terms of business or viewership.”
Since then, Winfrey endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But would she challenge Trump? He had glowing things to say about her political prospects back in 1999. When asked whether he’d ever consider a female running mate, Trump responded: “Well, I would consider, and as Chris [Matthews] can tell you, I threw out the name of a friend of mine, who I think the world of. She’s great. And some people thought it was an incredible idea, some people didn’t, but - Oprah. I said, ‘Oprah Winfrey,’ who’s really great. And I think we would be a very formidable team.”
Then there’s the time Winfrey interviewed Trump about his presidential hopes - in 1988.
“I just probably wouldn’t do it, Oprah, but I do get tired of seeing what’s happening with this country,” he said. “And if it got so bad, I would never want to rule it out totally.”
And we all see how that turned out.
The Washington Post’s Scott Clement contributed to this report.