Given both his punishing schedule of campaign rallies and his propensity to say things that are not always 100 percent accurate, it might seem normal for President Donald Trump to make up a story about the Democratic Party.
But in the past few weeks, Trump has delved into a bit of advice that’s so incoherent and inaccurate it could only come from this president in this moment in history:
“You notice I never say the Democratic Party,” the president told attendees of an event in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Oct. 26. “You know the word is Democrat. But when you say Democratic, it’s much nicer sounding, right? They should change their name, actually, but I’m not going to tell them that.”
Trump making no sense at all about the Democratic Party: "As we speak, the Democrat – not the Democratic – the Democrat…their name is the Democrat Party. It sounds so much more beautiful, 'the Democratic Party'…they should probably change their name."— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) October 27, 2018
This isn’t even the first time Trump has informed America that the name of the party that opposes him politically is not actually its name.
“You notice I say ‘Democrat Party’?” Trump asked nobody in particular at a rally in West Virginia a month earlier. “I hate how it sounds; that’s why I say it, because it’s really their name, you know. It’s not the Democratic Party, which flows nicer. Their real name is the Democrat Party.”
Again and again, Trump has used the phrase “Democrat Party”—deploying it in numerous speeches and in tweets going back several years. But only recently has he been asserting that it’s the actual name of the organization, and that they should change their name to what their name already is.
Is he confused? Lost in thought?
No, he’s doing it on purpose. Every time. And he’s not the only one.
From mainstream right-wing media sites to letters to the editor in local newspapers, the term “Democrat Party” is all the rage.
Democrat Party Leader Busted Funding Voter Fraud Ring https://t.co/4C1tkOvpPZ— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) October 28, 2018
“Candace Owens announces “Blexit” – the Black Exit from the Democrat Party” blares a headline on Breitbart, referring to the popular conservative activist; while a letter to the editor from Wayne Shrover of Fredricksburg asks “What happened to the Democrat Party I once knew?” while lamenting its takeover by the “socialist left.”
Even the “trustworthy encyclopedia” Conservapedia tells its not-inconsiderable readership that “Democrat Party is the grammatically correct term for the Democratic Party. The Party is not “democratic,” and proper nouns like “Democrat” are not converted into adjectives by adding “ic” as a suffix.”
Of course, this is not correct. At all.
The official name of the party is “Democratic Party.” It has been since 1844, when the party formally adopted that name after it arose out of the ashes of the Democratic-Republican Party.
That party had been the chief opposition to federalism in the young United States, and the first few presidential elections were contests between believers in federalism and believers that the country should be governed as a republic.
So why is the president insisting that the name of the party is not the actual name of the party?
And why do millions of others believe him?
I am watching the Democrat Party led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws) assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose leaders are doing little to stop this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to U.S…..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2018
The implication when using “Democrat Party” is usually that Democrats are not democratic, and believe in government control rather than the population exercising its rights. Its users also seem to think that anyone using the proper term doesn’t know the difference between small-d democratic and capital-D Democratic.
Plus, it sounds like “rat.”
But is a simple misuse of a party’s name really that much of an insult?
“It is disparaging, of course,” Berkeley linguistics professor Larry Hyman told the Daily Dot over email. “[Such is] usually the case when names are deformed in a way not used by the person or organization to which the term refers.”
To put it simply, as Hyman says, “Democrat Party” is not the party’s name. And, despite a few uses here and there, most Republicans throughout the years knew it.
The incorrect term got a little traction in Republican politics for the first half of the 20th century, always as an insult. It was used by 1940 Republican Convention speaker Harold Stassen in reference to “undemocratic” Democratic bosses, and later by Communist-obsessed Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy.
McCarthy’s use took it out of mainstream favor for a while, but every so often it slipped out. Bob Dole made a reference to “Democrat wars” in a 1976 debate, and Newt Gingrich was a big fan of using it as a snide insult to his foes in the Clinton White House.
It was the rise of the right-wing media machine that put “Democrat Party” on the lips and fundraising emails of virtually every Republican in the land. George W. Bush became the first president to openly embrace the term, using his 2007 State of the Union to congratulate the “Democrat majority” who won control of the House.
Even then, the term wasn’t fully weaponized by Republicans, as Bush’s prepared remarks used the proper “Democratic Party” name.
But much has changed since then, and now, almost every prominent conservative pundit and politician openly and unabashedly uses the incorrect name.
Ok, so what happens to the Democrat Party after they lose badly on 11/6?— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) October 28, 2018
The Rich Gate Keepers of the Democrat Party are still trying to convince Black people that they will remain poor under a Republican President yet they are all Still Rich under a Republican President.— Diamond and Silk® (@DiamondandSilk) October 29, 2018
Stop listening to @IAmSteveHarvey. Vote Right, Vote Red, Vote Republican!
I’ve always been free so I don’t subscribe to leaving some fictitious plantation. I left the Democrat party because I didn’t like what I was seeing during the 2008 election.— ✭ Wayne Dupree ✭ (@WayneDupreeShow) October 28, 2018
No master, no whips. I left because I saw the media for who they were. #realtalk
The term that once was tut-tutted when used by politicians is now almost standard. It’s all over mainstream conservative news sites like the Daily Caller, Breitbart, Real Clear Politics, and others. Ex-Trump staffers like Sebastian Gorka, radio bloviators like Rush Limbaugh, and columnists like Michael Reagan all use it.
And far-right activists are grifting off merchandise that uses it.
So when Trump and his acolytes make reference after reference to the “Democrat Party,” know that they aren’t using an alternative form of grammar, or revealing some kind of lingustics recommendation.
They’re insulting their foes, using a subtle term that you’ll hear only if you’re listening for it—and if you know what it really means.