It’s not just a grammatical gaffe. “Democrat Party” is an old GOP slam that’s about as subtle as Donald Trump’s Tang-hued mane.

“Republican” can be a noun or an adjective, but “Democrat” has different noun and adjective forms. Republicans know this, but keep using the wrong form. Let’s look at why.

Where did “Democrat Party” come from?

“Democrat Party” as a pejorative goes back at least as far as Tom Dewey, a two-time Republican presidential loser. Dewey disparaged the “Democrat Party” in 1944, the first time he ran for president, and got buried in one of four Rooseveltian landslides. (Truman beat Dewey in 1948.)

When he wasn’t red-baiting against Democrats, Sen. Joe McCarthy called them the “Democrat Party.”

Bob Dole harrumphed about the “Democrat Party” when he sought the vice presidency in 1976. He came up short as well.

Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich derided the “Democrat Party” in the 90s. “Democrat Party” pops up in the 2016 GOP platform.

Why do Repubs do this?

“There’s no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming,” Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in The New Yorker going on a dozen years ago. “‘Democrat Party’ is a slur, or intended to be—a handy way to express contempt. Aesthetic judgments are subjective, of course, but ‘Democrat Party’ is jarring verging on ugly. It fairly screams ‘rat.’”

Republicans use 'Democrat Party' as a slur – and they do it knowingly.Click To Tweet

Hertzberg’s musing was aimed at President George W. Bush who carried on the GOP tradition of needling the other side as the “Democrat Party.” Hertzberg also notes: “Ronald Reagan never used it in polite company, and George Bush père was too well brought up to use the truncated version of the out party’s name more than sparingly.”

From Bush II to Trump, the country veered from vapid to venal. The Bigot-In-Chief never misses a chance to demagogue against the “Democrat Party.”

Since the president took office, he “has ramped up his usage of the phrase, signifying a deepening of partisan divisions between Trump and his political adversaries,” wrote Business Insider’s Mark Abadi last December in a story headlined, “Trump is using a decades-old strategy to sneakily insult Democrats at every turn.”

When people use the term ‘Democrat party,’ “they are purposefully avoiding saying the proper name of the party,” according to Abadi, who quoted George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist and authority on political speak: “The implication is that the Democratic Party is not democratic and does not represent our democracy.”

Hertzberg further explained:

“In the conservative media, the phenomenon feeds more voraciously the closer you get to the mucky, sludgy bottom. “Democrat Party” is standard jargon on right-wing talk radio and common on winger Web sites like NewsMax.com, which blue-pencils Associated Press dispatches to de-“ic” references to the Party of F.D.R. and J.F.K. (The resulting impression that “Democrat Party” is O.K. with the A.P. is as phony as a North Korean travel brochure.)”

The right-wing media fever swamps have gotten a lot muckier and sludgier under Trump, the Yankee George Wallace.

However, the mainstream media—”lamestream” in Trumpistan—calls parties by what they call themselves. “Don’t use Democrat Party,” the Associated Press admonishes its scribes.

What should Democrats do about it?

So what, if anything, should Democrats do to counter “Democrat Party?”

Rename the Repubs, Sherman Yellen proposed in The Huffington Post in 2011.

He suggested, tongue-in-cheek, renaming the GOP “the Republicant Party,” arguing that “it takes less work than went into lopping off part of the Democratic Party nomenclature. All it requires is the addition of a single letter, a tiny little t to the end of their party name and it does the big job properly, and best of all, truthfully. First, we have the obvious meaning of the Republicants. It is clear that they can’t do anything right.”

Occasionally, I’ve winced at some Democrats, even politicians and party pros, who have, doubtless unwittingly, said “Democrat Party.” The Republicans gleefully claim it “proves” their smear’s not a smear.

Demfromhartsdaleny, the pseudonym for a Daily Kos contributor, is dismayed at other Kos posters who, evidently innocently, used “Democrat Party.” “I will assume good faith on their part (as opposed to their being Right Wingers who here to cause trouble) and that they are not informed of the very good reasons why no progressive or [D]emocrat should ever use this insulting slur, whether verbally or in writing.”

Demfromhartsdaleny, who cited Abadi’s article, offered some advice to Dems: Don’t say “Democrat Party “and if you are in dialogue with others who use it, don’t ever accept their doing so.  If they are on the progressive side, politely educate them.  If they are friends of yours who are conservative, let them know that it is insulting, and also that they sound like a very  uneducated individual when they use such a grammatically incorrect phrase. If the first point doesn’t convince them, perhaps the second one will.  If neither works, I personally would not engage in political dialogue with anyone that juvenile.”

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Berry Craig
Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of five books on the Civil War in Kentucky. The last one, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media in the Civil War. His critically-acclaimed Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase, also from the University Press, has been reprinted in paperback.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great observations and history lesson. I’m most familiar with W’s use (that means Karl Rove). I take issue with retaliations like Republicant. I say just stick to issues and grammatical correctness, correct misstatements when possible, but mostly take use of the term as a personal reminder of the slimy, picayune, unsubstantive depths that right-wingers operate in.

    • Yes, I thought the “Republicant” idea was just more of the same stuph we put up with from people who view politics as some sort of ego-pump for themselves. I like the other idea, though: correct them, and let them know it’s a slur.

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