Is the "silent majority" ready to roar again? Donald Trump thinks so. At his big rally in Phoenix recently, the bombastic businessman insisted: "The 'silent majority' is back, and we are going to take the country back."
Donald Trump gestures while meeting with the press at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump's future in the GOP presidential race is uncertain after his churlish attacks on Senator John McCain of Arizona. But whatever happens to Trump, the strong positive response from many rank-and-file Republicans to his attacks on immigrants and free trade, and to his contempt for party leaders, has demonstrated the depth of alienation among much of the GOP base — particularly, blue-collar and older whites. With or without Trump, the party must still navigate the appeal of "Trump-ism" to disaffected voters who feel the country as they know it "is slipping away fast," notes Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center.
It's no coincidence the "silent majority" language is resurfacing amid a wave of cultural and demographic change — from the Supreme Court decision authorizing gay marriage to the Census Bureau finding that most kids under 5 in America are not white. The "silent majority" idea first entered the political dialogue during the tumultuous social, racial, and political tensions of the late 1960s. In his winning 1968 campaign, Richard Nixon floated several formulations — "the silent center," "quiet Americans," "forgotten Americans" — before settling on the "silent majority" in a November 1969 speech urging support for the Vietnam War. (That history is according to the late William Safire, who should know: Before he became our premier political lexicographer, he served as a Nixon speechwriter.)