I don't know if Oprah Winfrey is actually thinking about running for president in 2020. I do know that she really seems to want us to talk about it.
On Thursday night, Winfrey on her Twitter account promoted a column from the New York Post's John Podhoretz that called her the Democrats' best hope for 2020.
“Thanks for your VOTE of confidence!” she told Podhoretz, whose column effusively praised her performance while interviewing Michigan voters on "60 Minutes” last weekend.
Maybe she was just having fun. But this isn't the first time she's teased a run. While talking to Bloomberg's David Rubenstein back in March, she clearly seemed to suggest it had crossed her mind now that the country had elected another entertainer/billionaire in Donald Trump:
“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.’ ”
Now for the cold water, Oprah fans. Winfrey's close friend Gayle King said shortly after the March interview that it was “clearly a joke” and “that ain't never happening.” And then, while talking to the Hollywood Reporter back in June, Winfrey herself said flatly, “I will never run for public office.”
Thursday night's tweet is jokey enough — “VOTE of confidence!” — that it could perhaps be dismissed as another meaningless bit of Twitter banter. Maybe King or Winfrey will tell us exactly that in the hours or days ahead.
But Winfrey is such a savvy communicator — perhaps even the savviest of communicators — that she had to know what her tweet Thursday night would set off. And that's especially given what happened back in March. Maybe she's apprehensive about running and often thinks she won't, and then it crosses her mind again. (People have been known to change their mind about such things — most notably Barack Obama, whom Winfrey endorsed back in 2008.) She may not want the full scrutiny of saying, “I'm thinking about it,” but wants to stay in the conversation. That would be understandable.
But it's also notable what Podhoretz was praising Winfrey for: A conversation with those crucial Michigan voters who delivered Trump the presidency. This was essentially a focus group that Winfrey was moderating, and it was all about politics. It almost seemed as if Winfrey was debuting herself as a political actor. The combination of that and the new tweet just seems . . . convenient.
Of course, the moment her new role as a "60 Minutes” contributor is viewed as a steppingstone to running for president is the moment it becomes problematic. So don't expect her to come out and admit it if she actually wants to run. But you have to be at least a little bit intrigued now that she's teased this twice.