Oprah Winfrey for president? Well, no. Please.
I suspect it’s unlikely the lesson Democrats will learn from Donald Trump is: Celebrity presidents are a great idea, only next time, let’s do it better. But they might — especially because it’s quite possible that those in the media who profited from the Trump campaign (and gave him millions of dollars of free publicity) might be eager to find a new celebrity to adore in 2020.
It’s still just as bad an idea as it was for Trump — and for previous celebrity almost-campaigns, such as Warren Beatty’s in the 1980s.
The truth is the same as always: The presidency is a real job, and a damn hard one. The easily visible parts — the speeches and the interviews, even the moral leadership — are a relatively small part of the responsibilities of the office. There’s simply no substitute for a good grasp of public policy and government affairs.
There’s also no substitute for political skills, which require training and experience, and are simply different from business skills, cultural mastery or the ability to perform. Ronald Reagan, the only president before Trump with a show-business background, had served eight years as a big-state governor and had learned lessons from two losing presidential campaigns before he finally won. He also had years of involvement in politics and public affairs before his explicitly political career: Remember, he headed up a union.
Of course, there are plenty of politicians who have moved from Hollywood or sports to elected office. Many of them, including Reagan, Jack Kemp and Bill Bradley, acquitted themselves well as public servants. I do think that some experience outside of politics is valuable for those eventually seeking the presidency, and I think it’s good when members of Congress have a variety of different backgrounds. But the idea of business executives, actors or talk-show hosts — or even someone who is all three — going straight from there to the White House has always been a bad idea, and I certainly don’t see anything over the last 12 months that provides any evidence to the contrary. With any luck, Democratic Party actors and primary voters will agree in 2020.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist.