DETROIT — Self-help guru and bestselling author Marianne Williamson has been one of the buzziest candidates running in the Democratic presidential primary, even if she’s polling at less than 1 percent. Williamson won’t be on stage for the second night of the debates Wednesday evening, but she stopped by the spin room, where she talked to Yahoo News about her performance the night before, her relationship with Oprah, slavery reparations and being “woke.”
Google data showed just how much attention Williamson generated with her performance in the Tuesday night debate. In every state except Montana, she was the most searched out of the 10 candidates who were onstage. Williamson attributed her lower ranking in Montana to a rival’s home state advantage.
“Steve Bullock, of course, is the governor, so people Googled him,” Williamson said. “It was just funny to see the map where it was every state except Montana, and so I said, ‘What’s wrong with Montana? It was a joke.’”
While Williamson’s unconventional mix of spirituality and politics has clearly piqued voters’ interest, thus far it hasn’t translated to strong support, and she remains near the back of the crowded Democratic primary field. While Williamson qualified for this week’s debates in Detroit and the first round last month, she is likely to be shut out of the next debate in September, which has stricter requirements.
Williamson’s New Age blend of Christianity and self-help first gained prominence when television talk show host Oprah Winfrey recommended her books. Oprah also frequently featured Williamson on her show. Williamson said she and Winfrey have exchanged messages about her presidential campaign, but she wouldn’t reveal much about it.
“We had an email exchange early on,” Williamson said of Oprah, adding, “I’m not going to tell you what she said.”
During Tuesday evening’s debate, Williamson saw something of a breakout moment — including raucous applause — when she tied the crisis in Flint, Mich., to a wider “dark psychic problem” with fraught race relations under President Trump.
Soon after, Williamson voiced support for federal slavery reparations, telling Yahoo News Wednesday evening that she’s not surprised that members of the black community are taking notice of her track record on race.
“When it comes to issues of racial inequality and what’s really going down underneath the surface on the level of systemic racism and some of the consequences of what’s going on in people’s lives, black people know what I’m talking about,” Williamson said. “I’m talking about things that affect their lives. … I’ve been talking about issues of racial inequality. I wrote a book at the end of the 1990s, I talked about mass incarceration, reparations, etc.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner, who is projected to garner significant support from black Americans, has shied away from backing reparations outright. In the spin room Wednesday evening, Williamson declined to comment on Biden’s position, though she argued that reparations should not be viewed as a “fringe policy.”
“I’m not practicing that kind of politics,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about what other candidates are saying. Those candidates are responsible for their campaigns, I’m responsible for mine. Let the voters decide what they prefer.”
While Williamson and several of the other candidates refrained from directly criticizing each other onstage during Tuesday night’s debate and afterward in the spin room, much of the coverage framed the event as a “clash.” Williamson said she didn’t believe there was any negative energy in the debate.
“There is a debate here of ideas. That’s a good thing. I mean, honorable debate is not a negative. That’s called a free society,” she said. “You know, free society is one in which we don’t all have to agree. We don’t have to toe the line with any one particular orthodoxy. That’s a good thing.”
Williamson clearly feels she has been ahead of the curve on progressive issues and on concepts like fighting “dark psychic forces” with “love.” So, in the parlance of the times, does she think she’s the most “woke” candidate in the presidential race?
“I’m not the one to ask,” Williamson said. “Ask some 22-year-old and see what they say.”
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