Nearly half an hour went by during Thursday’s Democratic debate before Marianne Williamson even had the chance to speak. In total, Williamson talked for roughly five minutes onstage in Miami, placing her among the group of presidential hopefuls who had the least amount of airtime during the first debates of the 2020 campaign.
So, how did the 66-year-old author and self-help guru, whom actress Gwyneth Paltrow has called a “spiritual legend,” end up as the night’s most Googled candidate and one of the top trending terms on Twitter?
Her campaign says it’s because she brought something new to the table.
“Her message is very different,” Patricia Ewing, Williamson’s communications director, told The Washington Post. “What you saw to the left of her was a sea of blue suits. They all pretty much said the same thing with a little bit of difference.”
But many viewers who were probably seeing Williamson for the first time, were equally charmed and baffled by the author, and the Internet and late-night shows both exploded with reactions to her appearance.
“I was just waiting for her at some point to be like, ‘We don’t need a plan, my friends. Just give me one vial of CBD oil and our chakras will be aligned,’” late-night host Trevor Noah joked.
Williamson, who made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2014, is the author of best-selling books, including “A Return to Love” and “Politics of Love,” and an adviser to Oprah Winfrey, The Post’s Robin Givhan reported. As Givhan wrote, Williamson is “a massive long shot” in the 2020 race, but she qualified for Thursday’s debate by not only garnering 65,000 individual donations but also registering 1 percent support in three polls.
Unlike her opponents, Williamson didn’t focus on “minute policy points” Thursday night, Ewing said. Instead, she pushed back against the idea that having plans are enough to beat President Trump, while weighing in on immigration, blasting family separations, and pledging that her first act as president would be to call New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
With that, Williamson transformed from a relatively unknown contender to one of the event’s most memorable people.
“This is a woman who lit up Twitter, lit up Google and only got one question in 40 minutes,” Ewing said. “You had Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders yapping the entire time and they didn’t do what she did. Think about if it was actually even what that woman could have accomplished tonight.”
The night began when, as late-night host Seth Meyers put it, Williamson “rose up out of a lake under the full moon to be at the debate.”
About 27 minutes in, Williamson received her first question: How would she lower the costs of prescription drugs?
“It’s really nice if we’ve got all these plans, but if you think we’re going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing coming,” Williamson said. “He didn’t win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying ‘Make America Great Again.’”
That idea didn’t seem to fly with CBS host Stephen Colbert, who specifically drew attention to the candidate calling policies and plans “superficial fixes.”
“Yes, we need to go deeper than these superficial, carefully thought out political policies,” Colbert said with mock sincerity. “Has anyone tried fixing America with crystals and bee pollen? Yoga?”
As the debate progressed, Williamson’s unusual commentary, spoken in what one person described as the voice of an “old timey actress,” inspired online commentators to try to describe her presence in the debate.
“Marianne Williamson is like a sentient glass of Chardonnay,” a person tweeted.
Others felt it was clear that Williamson’s New Age beliefs were on full display.
“Marianne Williamson is like if GOOP became a person,” one user tweeted, referencing the natural health company owned by Paltrow, the actress.
Williamson drew even more Twitter reaction by saying her first act as president would be to call Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, an interest she has publicly stated in the past.
“[Ardern] said her goal was to make New Zealand the place where it’s the best place in the world for a child to grow up,” Williamson said. “I would tell her, ‘Girlfriend, you are so wrong,’ because the United States of America is going to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up.”
When it came time for Williamson’s closing statement, Meyers could hardly contain himself as he played a clip of the debate.
“Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me, please,” an impassioned Williamson said. “You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field. And, sir, love will win.”
Applauding, Meyers grinned broadly. “The four people who did not qualify for these debates watched that and thought, whaaat?” he said.
Colbert, however, said he had a warning for “anyone curious about what she means by harnessing love.”
“Do not Google ‘love harness,’” he said. “It’s something totally different. Please do not.”
Ewing told The Post that the author is “fine” with all the jokes.
“Welcome to the world of millennials,” she said. “This is a way people of a certain age communicate, and it’s through humor and it’s fun.”
Ewing added that she wasn’t surprised at the surge in search traffic after the debate.
“We get that reaction on the stump all the time,” she said. “People say, ‘Marianne, who?’ to ‘Marianne, wow.’”
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