WASHINGTON – Marianne Williamson drew plenty of attention in the first Democratic presidential debate with her closing argument, which sounded nothing like what Americans are used to hearing on the debate stage.
Addressing President Donald Trump directly, Williamson said before the Miami crowd, “I'm going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field. And, sir, love will win.”
The speech drew mixed reactions. Some loved her performance, others mocked it. Some Republicans urged people to donate to Williamson’s campaign to get her onto the next debate stage. "This woman is ridiculous," tweeted conservative radio host Chris Stigall during the debates. "I want her to stay."
Having learned from the first debate, when she was briefly the most-Googled candidate, Williamson said she will try again at pushing her own mixed brand of politics and spirituality when she takes part in the second Democratic presidential primary debate on July 30 in Detroit. But don't expect her message to change.
Calling from a campaign stop in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Williamson told USA TODAY she lamented how she was perceived in the first debate.
“I hope that this time my delivery will be more aligned with my substance,” she said. “I don’t regret the substance of anything I said, but I understand that my delivery made me vulnerable to mockery.”
Williamson currently polls among the bottom of the group of 25 Democrats vying for the party's presidential nomination. A Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers found that zero of the poll's sampling of 600 likely caucus participants said Williamson would be their top choice, despite Williamson's relocation to Iowa to try to interact with voters.
This time will be different, she says, and she plans to eschew traditional debate preparation.
"Every day on the campaign trail is preparation. Every day you’re thinking about issues, writing about issues, talking about issues, learning about issues.” Williamson said. “It’s a continuous process. To me that’s the best preparation.”
Williamson plans to change her tactics when she takes the stage again. She wouldn’t say what her plan was, but she did say she had learned a lesson from the first debates.
“I need to just be myself,” she said.
Asked whether she was going to do traditional mock debates where staffers might stand in for candidates as part of her prep, Williamson said, "I did a lot of that last time. This time I’m seeing things a little bit differently."
Where some Democratic presidential candidates have campaigned on a stridently anti-Trump message, or on wonky policy details, Williamson's campaign has focused on a message of transformation and love.
Her website says of her platform, "where fear has been harnessed for political purposes, our task is to harness love." Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle called her the "only true anti-Trump," with an "ineffable, almost otherworldly positivity" that is the opposite of the president's brash approach to campaigning.
Standing out doesn't seem to be difficult for Williamson, even in the pack of 25 seeking the Democratic nomination.
When asked about how she would distinguish herself on a stage with Democratic heavyweights like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Williamson replied, “I don’t need to distinguish myself when what I’m talking is simply different from what other people are talking about."
"Elizabeth should be Elizabeth, Bernie should be Bernie, and Marianne should be Marianne," she added.
The 67-year-old author and activist does not have any prior government experience, but she did run unsuccessfully for Congress in California in 2014. Although she ran as an independent, she was endorsed by Democratic Party figures like former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
Despite the mixed reactions to her previous debate performance, Williamson insisted, "I choose not to base my sense of self on other people’s projections. I receive more than enough support from people I respect. I’m out there continuing to do what I do, continuing the conversation that I’m very clear no one else is having.”
Williamson, though, has taken criticism for previous tweets she made about vaccines and her views on health. Appearing on BuzzFeed's "AM 2 DM" on July 26 she said antidepressants were overprescribed for “normal human despair" and addressed a 2009 tweet about swine flu that said, "God is BIG, swine flu SMALL...Pour God's love on our immune systems."
Despite those statements, her message is resonating with some voters who had never been seriously engaged in politics before Williamson declared her bid for president.
Paul Sutherland, a 64-year-old money manager from Traverse City, Mich., said he had never donated money to a candidate until Williamson ran for president.
“She comes from a place of morals and values and character,” Sutherland told USA TODAY, adding he liked her proposals for early childhood education.
“We have to come from a place of love, we can’t come from a place of fear,” he said. “When you look at her competition, which is Trump, he just pushes the reactive fear buttons. And that’s not how you build a healthy society. And I was excited that she verbalized that.”
Sutherland, who identifies as a political independent, gave the maximum contribution to Williamson’s campaign – $2,800.
Mary Braud, a 58-year-old integrative psychiatrist from Denver, Colo., donated $2,495 to Williamson’s campaign.
“What she’s talking about, about coming from a place of love, caring, and compassion, just really speaks to me," Braud said. "Hearing her talk about these issues is the first time that my choice to be a liberal all my life was finally deeply rooted in spirituality."
April Bell, a 47-year-old marketer from Dallas, Texas, likes Williamson's "message of bringing peace."
Bell gave the maximum amount of $2,800 to Williamson as well, though she also expressed support for former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
"I’ve been following her for a few years, and I think it’s interesting to have a woman who’s focused on interpersonal growth and is also strong enough to do something as brave as run for president,” Bell told USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democratic debate: Marianne Williamson keeping message of 'love'