Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority

By Robert Mason | Go to book overview

TWO
MIDDLE
AMERICA AND
THE SILENT
MAJORITY
Issues,
1969-1970

On the morning after Election Day 1968, President-elect Richard Nixon spoke of a sign he had seen held by a teenager in Deshler, Ohio, during the campaign: "Bring us together." "And that will be the great objective of this administration at the outset," Nixon said, "to bring the American people together." The an- swer to the turbulence of the 1960s, Nixon suggested, was the reconciliation of differences. If indeed Nixon placed this goal as the priority of his administra- tion, its initiatives might differ strikingly from those expected on the basis of his political reputation. Some of his senior aides had already told a journalist about Nixon's interest in reaching out to Americans beyond his "great 'silent majority' " after the election. "In short, this line of Nixon talk implies," wrote journalist John Osborne in October, "Richard Nixon in the White House may turn out to be more liberal, more humane, more attuned to the world about us than Nixon the candidate appears to be or than President Hubert Humphrey could even try to be."1

But "this line of Nixon talk" was based on an incorrect assumption. Nixon had not yet won over any majority; he owed his election to the votes of a minority rallied in opposition to the mistakes of the Democrats rather than in support of his promise. About to begin was a long and hard struggle to identify a majority and to win its loyalty. Although the task was formidable, Nixon be- lieved that the times offered great potential for such a struggle. He became sure that a realignment to the advantage of conservative politicians was possible.

Yet Nixon was not as sure how to encourage this realignment. As the early

-37-

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