Trump is using a decades-old strategy to sneakily insult Democrats at every turn

Donald Trump.

caption
Donald Trump.
source
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • Donald Trump and other Republicans often say “Democrat party” instead of “Democratic Party” as an insult.
  • Use of the insult goes back decades, and George W. Bush caused a stir when he used it in 2007.
  • Intentional or not, Trump’s usage of it could further stoke partisan divisions.

For years, Donald Trump has reached into his linguistic bag of tricks to subtly insult Democrats.

The tactic is removing two letters from the name of their party: the final “-ic.” You see it in phrases like the “Democrat Party” and “Democrat leadership.”

Republicans have rankled Democrats with the phrase for decades, so much that it’s considered an epithet in political circles. Yet since taking office in January, Trump has ramped up his usage of the phrase, signifying a deepening of the partisan divisions between Trump and his political adversaries.

Take a look at the following tweets from Trump. In every one, he uses “Democrat” where “Democratic” should go:

Screen Shot 2017 12 12 at 2.33.54 PM

source
Twitter/Donald Trump

Screen Shot 2017 12 12 at 2.31.26 PM

source
Twitter/Donald Trump

Screen Shot 2017 12 12 at 2.32.26 PM

source
Twitter/Donald Trump

Screen Shot 2017 12 12 at 2.33.29 PM

source
Twitter/Donald Trump

Screen Shot 2017 12 12 at 2.33.11 PM

source
Twitter/Donald Trump

Screen Shot 2017 12 12 at 2.33.43 PM

source
Twitter/Donald Trump

Screen Shot 2017 12 12 at 2.34.08 PM

source
Twitter/Donald Trump

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the word “Democrat” on its own. But when people use it in two-word constructions like “Democrat party,” they are purposefully avoiding saying the proper name of the party.

Linguists and political scientists have cited Republican usage of the term as an insult since at least the 1950s, and although there is no consensus on why it is offensive, several experts have their opinions.

“The implication is that the Democratic Party is not democratic and does not represent our democracy,” George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist and expert on political messaging, told Business Insider.

Jim Dornan, a Republican political consultant who worked on Trump’s exploratory campaign, seemed to agree: “Those politicians that use it are using it to hammer the Democrats as being the non-democratic party.”

Others maintain that the construction is ungrammatical, although Mark Liberman of the site Language Log argued against that theory in 2007.

Meanwhile, conservative political commentator William Safire wrote in 1993 that the phrase’s popularity could stem from what it sounds like: “[Democrat] does conveniently rhyme with autocrat, plutocrat, and worst of all, bureaucrat, he said.

George W. Bush caused an uproar when he said it in 2007

President George W. Bush caused a stir when he referred to the

caption
President George W. Bush caused a stir when he referred to the “Democrat majority” in his 2007 State of the Union address.
source
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Whatever the reason, Republicans from Joseph McCarthy to Barry Goldwater to Newt Gingrich have weaponized the phrase over the years.

In 2007, President George W. Bush caused a minor uproar when in his State of the Union address, he referred to the new “Democrat majority” in Congress.

Democratic politicians and pundits bristled at the expression and suggested Bush was intentionally stoking divisions between the two parties. Bolstering their claim was the fact that Bush had deviated from the speech’s written text, which read “Democratic majority,” to deliver the line.

Bush eventually apologized for the remark but denied it was a purposeful slight, claiming “that was an oversight” and “I didn’t even know I did it.”

“The idea that somehow I was trying to needle the Democrats, it’s just – gosh, it’s probably Texas,” Bush said at the time. “Who knows what it is? But I’m not that good at pronouncing words anyway.”

On the other hand, the low-key nature of the insult could give Republicans the plausible deniability they need to use it in certain situations. The Los Angeles Times found in 2004 that Bush’s use of the phrase “Democrat Party” spiked in 2004 and 2006, two major election years. And President Ronald Reagan said it more times in 1984, the year of his reelection, than he did in all the others years of his presidency combined, the newspaper found.

“It’s kind of like flashing colors in a gang. It’s code,” Daniel Weiss, chief of staff of former Democratic Rep. George Miller, told The Times. “It says, ‘I’m one of you, I’m a right-wing conservative.'”

It’s anyone’s guess as to whether Trump is deliberately channeling decades of Republican derision when he uses the phrase “Democrat Party” in speeches and tweets.

But intentional or not, perhaps the best reason why he and other Republicans should stop came from The Economist in 2012:

“The real reason ‘Democrat Party’ is wrong is not because it’s ungrammatical, but because it’s incorrect in another way – the party is simply not named the Democrat Party, but the Democratic Party. Calling it anything else is discourteous.”