Nearly 52 years ago, a California politician popularized the term “silent majority” to refer to mainstream Americans whose centrist views were overshadowed by a vocal minority at a time of national upheaval.
That politician, Richard Nixon, was a Republican, but Gov. Gavin Newsom tapped a new Democratic silent majority in his victory Tuesday over the Republican-led recall.
Nixon was President at the height of the unpopular Vietnam War, and Newsom is Governor of the most populous state at the peak of the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Both sought a middle ground between the vitriol on both sides.
Newsom’s victory on Tuesday demonstrates that what most Californians want is competent government without a lot of drama. And it’s a warning to Republicans that continuing to embrace Donald Trump and right-wing conspiracy theories will be a dead end.
The fact is, the vast majority of Americans don’t watch Fox News, don’t listen to AM radio, and don’t obsess over critical race theory. They approve of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, don’t see looming communism and think the term “woke” is funny.
They aren’t seduced by the latest loudmouth media star. They’d rather have someone with actual experience in government. And that’s what Newsom offered.
No Governor expects a worldwide pandemic, or has prior training in handling one. And Newsom obviously made mistakes. But California’s lockdowns, mask mandates and vaccine efforts resulted in a death rate well below America’s other big states — Texas and Florida — where Republican Governors resisted what most Americans see as commons sense.
Newsom demonstrated a clear understanding that, like it or not, the pandemic was a historic crisis and state government had to respond. Anything different would be just wishful thinking, and hope is not a strategy.
Centrist Californians were rightly fearful of what this deadly virus could do. In the end, they were grateful for what Newsom accomplished.
Sure, he made a mistake eating dinner without a mask at the French Laundry in Napa, and the overwhelmed Employment Development Department is a mess, but didn’t we all make some mistakes during the pandemic?
Of course, diehard Trump Republicans are already claiming election fraud, but the silent majority knows better. To them, it’s just another conspiracy theory in the Fox-led right-wing echo chamber.
One other bright spot is former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s nearly 10% result. It showed that while Californians didn’t want to recall Newsom, they considered a centrist Republican a real alternative.
America needs a viable center-right party. Accomplished politicians like Faulconer offer that possibility. Divisive talk radio hosts like Larry Elder don’t.
And maybe Newsom’s victory will end former City Councilman Carl DeMaio’s tactic of using recalls to try to oust politicians who would never lose in a general election. Silent majority voters see recalls as a waste of taxpayer money — a $276 million waste in this case — rather than an exercise in democracy.
California is a bellwether for the rest of America. What Newsom’s victory means is that Americans want competent government, not talk radio and reality TV drama.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.