Donald Trump has re-incarnated Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority,” the quietly disgruntled mass of angry, frustrated, mostly white voters whose smoldering resentment of government and society President Nixon stoked into blazing support. Nixon was able to stir sufficient fear of social change to generate energy among the then lethargic conservative base and easily win election and re-election.
Back then, in the second half of the 1960’s, this awakened mass was reacting to what many felt were the liberal excesses of the sexual revolution, the anti-war and civil rights movements. Things were changing fast. The kids who made love not war and said they didn’t trust anybody over 30 were having sex and abortions, smoking dope, evading the draft, and taking over popular culture.
A majority of usually reserved even indifferent, mainstream white Americans did not approve. Those voters were the demographic that dominated many states in those days, especially in the South where blacks and Latinos were still largely disenfranchised.
The success of their Silent Majority in1968 and 1972 was a giant retrenchment. President Nixon captured most southern and suburban white voters, including those who previously supported racial activists like governors George Wallace and Lester Maddox. They woke up, voted in droves and if it wasn’t for Watergate there would have been uninterrupted GOP-rule for decades.
Now, apparently trying to harness that fear and resentment of change, Donald Trump defines his supporters as the “new” Silent Majority. Aside from the fact that the Tea Party movement largely plies the same waters, I think the only thing new is that the Silent Majority is no longer a majority. Its strength is drawn disproportionately from less educated and less successful middle aged white men. They represent a shrinking segment of the national electorate.
According to the Census Bureau, "Over the last five presidential elections, the share of voters who were racial or ethnic minorities rose from just over one in six in 1996 to more than one in four in 2012."
America’s non-white population is approaching 40% and will be a majority of all Americans by about 2050. In 2012, according to CNN exit polls, 93% of African-Americans, 71% of Hispanics and 73% of Asians supported President Obama over Governor Romney. Mitt Romney captured just 17% of the non-white population.
Donald Trump may win the Republican primary season by winning the hearts and minds of his new Silent Majority. His promises of a Great Wall, mass deportations and his jousting with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos undoubtedly play well to that crowd. But there are not enough of them to win. In the race for the White House it is a losing strategy.