Mike Pence pulled a neat trick Thursday on CNN. As “New Day" host Chris Cuomo grilled the Republican vice-presidential nominee about some of Donald Trump's most incendiary remarks, Pence subtly suggested that this whole tough interview thing is just an act.
“Look, when Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, whether people agree with him or not, he's going to respect all the people of this country," Pence said. "You know him well, Chris. You know him to be that kind of a man."
Translation: "I know you have to ask these questions because it's your job, Chris, but you don't really have concerns about Trump's rhetoric. You know he's a good guy. So all the voters out there should realize that when journalists bring up the Muslim ban or whip out that Mexican thing again, they are often just doing it for ratings or because that's what they are supposed to do in the liberal media. In private, they know Trump isn't racist and will Make America Great Again."
This is an extension of the "silent majority" argument Trump and his surrogates have been making throughout the campaign. They even have signs.
The idea is to signal that Trump's base is bigger than it appears because some backers — plagued by the scourge of political correctness, of course — feel they must criticize him publicly. The Trump campaign has even suggested that telephone polls underestimate the billionaire's support because some voters are afraid to admit to another person that they plan to vote for Trump.
"Donald Trump performs consistently better in online polling where a human being is not talking to another human being about what he or she may do in the election," Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told a British TV station in August. "It's because it's become socially desirable, if you're a college-educated person in the United States of America, to say that you're against Donald Trump."
When Trump effectively locked up the Republican presidential nomination in May, he told NBC's Lester Holt that some politicians who have spoken out against him actually support him behind closed doors.
HOLT: I'm sure the phone has been ringing off the hook today. Give me some names. Who called with congratulations today — a name that might surprise us?
TRUMP: Well, many people. But really, I think most interesting [are] people that you wouldn't believe. People that have been on your show saying terrible things, and now they all want to join.
HOLT: Give us some names.
TRUMP: I don't want to do that.
The notion that Trump has hidden supporters in politics, polls and the media is designed to comfort voters who like some of what they see in the business executive but have reservations about his temperament. It's okay to vote for Trump, according to the "silent majority" theory, because lots of other people support him, too. They can't or won't always say so, but they don't really think he's a demagogue, and neither should you.
The only true test, of course, will come on Election Day, when we will find out whether there really are more Trump voters out there than surveys indicate.