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Trump counting on a ‘silent majority’ that may never be heard

President Trump is staking his reelection on a “silent majority” of people who he believes will rally to him as the last line of defense against urban lawlessness and attacks on national symbols. But the silent majority may not translate into either a popular vote or an electoral majority, Republican strategists increasingly fear.

“Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities,” Trump said in his Fourth of July celebration remarks at Mount Rushmore. Zeroing in on both the cultural conflicts and traditional “law-and-order” themes, Trump declared, “The American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them.”

Trump tweeted last month: “THE VAST SILENT MAJORITY IS ALIVE AND WELL!!! We will win this Election big.” At his June 20 Tulsa rally, Trump decried an “unhinged left-wing mob” but vowed, “the silent majority is stronger than ever before.”

The phrase is borrowed from Richard Nixon, who was elected president in 1968 during a similar period of unrest. While accepting the Republican nomination, he celebrated “the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans, the non-shouters, the non-demonstrators.” He added, “They’re not racist or sick, they’re not guilty of the crime that plagues the land. They are good people; they are decent people. They work hard, and they save, and they pay their taxes, and they care.”

This is similar to how Trump describes the MAGA base. His backers also frequently talk about “hidden voters” who exist undetected by pollsters and aided his unexpected 2016 win.

Still, recent polling shows Trump far from the 49-state landslide reelection Nixon won in 1972. The current president’s numbers have gotten worse since the George Floyd protests began, suggesting the silent majority is even quieter than it was before — or no longer a majority.

“There was never a silent majority for Trump in 2016, so the idea that it is something other than an homage to Nixon’s message from the ‘70s is silly,” said Republican strategist Nicholas Everhart. “There were an enormous number of disaffected partisan voters that stayed home or voted for third parties in industrial Midwest states that had been in the Democrat column for decades, coupled with Hillary Clinton ostensibly playing the role of ‘incumbent’ upon which a referendum was being decided. She lost the referendum, and Trump embodied change, but it wasn’t a silent majority … it was just a majority in just enough states to thread the needle.”

A Monmouth University poll released Wednesday found that 77% of adults understood “defund the police” to mean “change the way the police departments operate,” compared to only 18% who believed it meant their abolition, suggesting that Trump’s messaging on this particular issue isn’t getting through. More broadly, violent protests and even an uptick in shootings don’t seem to have dented sympathy for those demonstrating on behalf of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Yet neither has Trump mollified voters looking for order to be restored.

“He’s talking about a ‘silent majority’ when he should be saying, ‘I will be your voice’ — his best line from the 2016 campaign,” said veteran Republican consultant Frank Luntz. “He should be personalizing his messaging instead of making blanket statements about society. The silent majority was a strategy, not an applause line.”

Trump is presently trailing Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, by 8.7 points in the national RealClearPolitics polling average.

“The president is in trouble, and it’s a toxic political environment right now, period,” said Everhart. “Unless you worked in [Democratic wave election year] 2006, you’ve got no idea how thin the ice is right now.”

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