Leaving aside the realities of what an Oprah Winfrey run for president would really look like (the woomeistering alone would be brutal*), this thanfully brief infatuation with Oprah Winfrey running as a Democratic candidate tells us that many Democrats still don’t understand what happened in 2016 and 2017. Simply put, enthusiasm and turnout matter (and both these things are intertwinned). In 2017, we have seen grassroots organizations drawn from the three pillars of the Democratic base (in no particular order): labor Democrats, what used to be called liberal Democrats, and minorities (I use minorities broadly, as this can depend on the state and the district). When they are discouraged, they don’t put the ground work in–banging on doors and the like–and, sometimes, even stay home. When these groups are motivated (and not all groups are motivated by the same people or issues–which is fine! Big Tent!), Democrats do well (and in a gerrymandered environment, there’s the potential to bust the gerrymander with greater than expected Democratic turnout, especially if Republicans are discouraged). One also wonders if one of the last mass movements aligned with Democrats–teachers unions–wouldn’t forget her support for charter schools.
This ties into a related problem for Democrats: too many Democrats, including those in leadership, treat the party as a consumer choice. Do I choose Oprah or the Donald? A healthy Democratic party would have investment from the rank-and-file (which, of course, means that the leadership might lose some power within the institution), and not be a cult of personality. Were this case, Democrats would be approaching any candidacy far more transactionally–what do we get if you win? The Christian and white nationalist right did this with Trump (whose bonafides regarding piety are certainly strained), and it’s worked out pretty well for them.
So, is our Democrats learning? Not enough, so far anyway.
*“So, when a cancer patient took your Secret/power of positive thinking crap seriously, stopped treatment, and consequently died, how did you feel?” Not a good look.