Mark Cuban declares he may run and Bob Iger is dropping hints, but political vets Michael Feldman (D) and Frank Luntz (R) say Winfrey is the only Hollywood candidate with "no negatives."
This story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
“He legitimately could be president on day one,” says Luntz. “And Disney is the most important ambassador for America? of any brand.” Working against Iger, according to Luntz, is his calm demeanor, which may not play well to the left of the Democratic party that is hungry for red meat. “If you are a Democrat, you want someone to yell and scream, and that is not his personality. He abides by what he believes, and is not defined by what he hates.” Feldman, who calls Iger “the insider’s outsider,” adds, “In 2020, maybe people will be looking for more gray hairs, not orange ones, somebody who’s more sober, stable, methodical — but still hasn’t been a part of the process before.” Name recognition would also be a serious challenge for Iger, Feldman notes. “People feel like he has achieved success, managed a big organization before. But he is an unknown and his ability to connect to voters is unclear, so he would have to work on that.”
“He has money, but not Oprah money nor Trump money, so he would have to find funding — a challenge for an independent,” says Feldman (Johnson is registered as an independent voter). “He could bring in new voters, but he would be running on his celebrity, period.” More so than any other Hollywood candidate, Johnson would need to be paired with an establishment political running mate to provide him and his campaign with gravitas, says Feldman. Luntz’s take on the “eye-catching” former Rock: “He would have the greatest difficulty because his skills do not lend themselves to the office of the president. I don’t think it is even within the realm of possibility.”
She has said she won’t run, but she’d be a force. “No negatives at all,” says Luntz. “So many Americans vote on character rather than policy that she could draw from across the spectrum.” But would she have the stomach for an actual campaign? "Politics has become so ugly, so vile and so personal that she would be sick of it within 24 hours." says Luntz. “This would be unlike anything she has ever experienced, and I can’t imagine that it would be an enjoyable experience for her.” Feldman cites Winfrey's appeal for two groups Democrats need: women and black voters. “She built her career on her appeal and relatability to viewers, and so that is an extraordinarily attractive quality,” says Feldman. “But the question is: Can she deliver a punch? Can she take one? That was never a question with Trump."
“He would be the most fun to watch, because Trump can’t intimidate him and Cuban’s just as quick and just as biting,” says Luntz, who sees the mogul as the “first truly electable independent.” Luntz questions whether Cuban would be up for the grind and personal attacks of a campaign and thinks he would have a challenge appealing to both parties’ bases. “He would have serious trouble with the 20 percent of the most conservative and liberal voters, because he is not ideological. He doesn’t know the language of the left or the right. What he does is sell an image of success. That is why I see him as an independent.” Cuban could play well in the South and garner support from the business elites, Feldman adds. He could “throw a grenade and say, ‘Trump was the inauthentic billionaire. I’m the real billionaire,’ using Trump as a model and as a foil.” The challenge would but be building name recognition.