Political historian and journalist Theodore H. White described the 1968 presidential election of Richard Nixon as a rebellion of the “mute masses” against America’s cultural leaders.
“Never have America's leading cultural media, its university thinkers, its influence makers been more intrigued by experiment and change; but in no election have the mute masses more completely separated themselves from such leadership and thinking,” White wrote.
Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace in the race. A year later, Nixon called those Americans — the ones who were not protesting the Vietnam War or joining into the late 1960s counterculture — a “silent majority.”
On Election Day 2016, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump won the White House, did a another coalition of silent Americans carry him? Trump trailed Democrat Hillary Clinton in nearly every poll conducted in the run-up to the election, including some that gave him just a 1 percent chance of winning.
The Los Angeles Times/USC poll was a notable exception, showing Trump winning the popular vote.
While Clinton rolled up big wins in coastal areas and major urban cities, Trump rolled up large victories in smaller counties across the country throughout the South, the Midwest and the Plains.
The popular vote remained tight late into Wednesday morning with a chance that Clinton, buoyed by a strong showing in California, could still carry the popular vote and lose the electoral college.
Like in 2000, third-party candidates won more votes in Florida than the difference between Trump and Clinton. Trump carried the state by less than 140,000 votes. Libertarian Gary Johnson won more than 204,000 votes and Green Party nominee Jill Stein took more than 63,000 votes.
Nixon followed a similar path as Trump seems to be, earning a narrow popular vote win but a decisive electoral college victory.
Nixon carried 32 states despite taking just 43.4 percent of the popular vote. Humphrey won 13 states plus Washington, D.C. with 42.7 percent of the vote. Wallace carried five states, all in the South, taking 13.5 percent of the popular vote.
White laid out Nixon’s post-election challenge in 1968.
“Mr. Nixon’s problem is to interpret what the silent people think, and govern the country against the grain of what its more important thinkers think,” he wrote.
Trump, who railed against not only Democrats but the Republican establishment, will face a similar challenge.