Democrat Party (epithet)

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Democrat Party is a political epithet used in the United States for the Democratic Party. The term has been used in negative or hostile fashion by conservative commentators and members of the Republican Party in party platforms, partisan speeches and press releases since at least 1940.[1]

Reasons for use[edit]

Multiple reasons are suggested for the use of the term. The New York Times suggests that Republicans began to use the term when Democrats used their own party name to imply that "they are the only true adherents of democracy".[2] Republicans "feared that 'Democratic' suggested Democrats [had] a monopoly on or are somehow the anointed custodians of the concept of democracy".[3][further explanation needed] Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in The New Yorker, "There’s no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming. '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.'"[4] Political analyst Charlie Cook attributed modern use of the term to force of habit rather than a deliberate epithet by Republicans.[5] Ruth Marcus stated that Republicans likely only continue to employ the term because Democrats dislike it.[6] Marcus stated that disagreements over use of the term are "trivial",[6] and Hertzberg calls use of the term "a minor irritation" and also "the partisan equivalent of flashing a gang sign".[4]

History of usage[edit]

The Oxford English Dictionary says the term was used by the London press as a synonym for the more common "Democratic Party" in 1890: "Whether a little farmer from South Carolina named Tillman is going to rule the Democrat Party in America—yet it is this, and not output, on which the proximate value of silver depends."[7] In American history, many parties were named by their opponents (Federalists, Loco-Focos, Know Nothings, Populists, Dixiecrats), including the Democrats themselves, as the Federalists in the 1790s used "Democratic Party" as a term of ridicule.[8]

Addressing a gathering of Michigan Republicans in 1889, New Hampshire Republican Congressman Jacob H. Gallinger said:

The great Democrat party, laying down the sceptre of power in 1860, after ruling this country under free trade for a quarter of a century, left our treasury bankrupt, and gave as a legacy to the Republican party, a gigantic rebellion and a treasury without a single dollar of money in it.[9]

According to William Safire, Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, campaign manager to Republican Wendell Willkie during the 1940 presidential campaign, explained that because the Democratic Party was at that time partly controlled by undemocratic city bosses, "by [Frank] Hague in New Jersey, [Tom] Pendergast in Missouri and [Edward Joseph] Kelly-Nash in Chicago, [it] should not be called a 'Democratic Party.' It should be called the 'Democrat Party.'"[10]

The term "Democrat Party" was in common use with no negative connotations by Democrats in some localities at mid-century. John Lyman stated, "in Maryland the usage has been common for years among some members of the Democrat party itself, with no derogation intended."[11]

The noun-as-adjective has been used by Republican leaders since the 1940s, and in most GOP national platforms since 1948.[12] By the early 1950s the term was in widespread use among Republicans of all factions.[13] In 1968, Congressional Quarterly reported that at its national convention "the GOP did revert to the epithet of 'Democrat' party. The phrase had been used in 1952 and 1956 but not in 1960."[14]

Use of the term has been a point of contention within the Republican Party. In 1984, when a delegate of the Republican platform committee asked unanimous consent to change a platform amendment to read the Democrat Party instead of Democratic Party, New York Representative Jack Kemp objected, saying that would be "an insult to our Democratic friends" and the committee dropped the proposal.[2] In 1996, the wording throughout the Republican party platform was changed from "Democratic Party" to "Democrat Party": Republican leaders "explained they wanted to make the subtle point that the Democratic Party had become elitist".[15] A proposal to use the term again in the August 2008 Republican Platform for similar reasons was voted down with leaders choosing to use "Democratic Party". "We probably should use what the actual name is," said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, the panel's chairman. "At least in writing."[15]

Ron Elving, the senior Washington editor of NPR, said in 2010 that the term "Democrat" should not be used as an adjective: "We should not refer to Democrat ideas or Democrat votes. Any deviation from that by NPR reporters on air or on line should be corrected".[16]


Some grammarians believe that the use of the noun "Democrat" as an adjective is ungrammatical.[17] Jean Yates suggests that the use of a noun as a modifier of another noun is not grammatically incorrect in modern English in the formation of a compound noun, e.g., "shoe store", "school bus", "peace movement", etc.[18] The use of nouns as adjectives is part of a broader linguistic trend, according to language expert Ruth Walker, who claims, "We're losing our inflections—the special endings we use to distinguish between adjectives and nouns, for instance. There's a tendency to modify a noun with another noun rather than an adjective. Some may speak of 'the Ukraine election' rather than 'the Ukrainian election' or 'the election in Ukraine', for instance. It's 'the Iraq war' rather than 'the Iraqi war', to give another example."[19]

Use by George W. Bush and Donald Trump[edit]

Following his inauguration in 2001, President George W. Bush often used the noun-as-adjective when referring to the opposition party.[20] In 2006, Ruth Marcus, a columnist for The Washington Post, noted that "[t]he derisive use of 'Democrat' in this way was a Bush staple during the recent campaign", and she chastised Bush, alleging he was being intentionally offensive.[6] Marcus went on to say the argument about the term was "trivial, sticks-and-stones [...] linguistic bickering".[6]

Bush spoke of the "Democrat majority" in his 2007 State of the Union Address.[21] The advance copy that was given to members of Congress read "Democratic majority".[5] Democrats again complained about the use of "Democrat" as an adjective in the address: John Podesta, White House Chief of Staff for Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton, complained that it was "like nails on a chalkboard".[5] Congressional historian Julian E. Zelizer said "It's hard to disentangle whether that's an intentional slight".[5] Political analyst Charlie Cook doubted it was a deliberate attempt to offend Democrats saying Republicans "have been doing it [using the term] so long that they probably don't even realize they're doing it".[5]

Bush joked about the issue by talking about his leadership of the "Republic Party." On February 4, 2007, Bush gave a speech to House Democrats, stating "Now look, my diction isn't all that good. I have been accused of occasionally mangling the English language. And so I appreciate you inviting the head of the Republic Party."[22][23]

Republican presidential aspirant Donald Trump said on December 19, 2015, that the debate among Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders that was slated to be held the same evening on CNN should be called the "Democrat Debate" rather than "Democratic", as the party was the "Democrat Party" and not "Democratic".[24]


Delegates to the Democratic National Committee once proposed using "Publican Party" instead of "Republican Party". The committee failed to accept the proposal "explaining that Republican is the name by which the our opponents' product is known and mistrusted".[1] Sherman Yellen suggested "The Republicants" as suitably comparable in terms of negative connotation in an April 29, 2007 Huffington Post commentary.[25] Other progressive blogs such as Daily Kos use the term "Republicon", to suggest Republicans "are con artists, evil, and after your money" and that, in their view, the modern Republican party is dominated by a radically conservative faction.[26][27]

On the edition of February 26, 2009 of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Republican Representative Darrell Issa referred to "a Democrat Congress". The host, Chris Matthews, took exception, saying:

Well, I think the Democratic Party calls itself the Democratic Party, not the Democrat Party. Do we have to do this every night? Why do people talk like this? Is this just fighting words to get the name on?[28]

Issa denied that he intended to use "fighting words". Matthews replied, "They call themselves the Democratic Party. Let's just call people what they call themselves and stop the Mickey Mouse here—save that for the stump."[28]

In March 2009, after Representative Jeb Hensarling (R–Texas) repeatedly used the phrase "Democrat Party" when questioning U.S. Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, Representative Marcy Kaptur (D–Ohio) said:

I’d like to begin by saying to my colleague from Texas that there isn’t a single member on this side of the aisle that belongs to the “Democrat Party.” We belong to the Democratic Party. So the party you were referring to doesn’t even exist. And I would just appreciate the courtesy when you’re referring to our party, if you’re referring to the Democratic Party, to refer to it as such.[29]


  1. ^ a b Safire (1993), pp. 163–164
  2. ^ a b "Democrats Find Ally In Republican Camp". New York Times. UPI. August 17, 1984. 
  3. ^ Roy H. Copperud, American Usage and Style: The Consensus (Van Nostrand 1980) pp. 101–2
  4. ^ a b Hertzberg, Hendrik (August 7, 2006). "The "Ic" Factor". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 6, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Copleand, Libby (January 25, 2007). "President's Sin of Omission? (Dropped Syllable in Speech Riles Democrats)". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 31, 2007. 
  6. ^ a b c d Marcus, Ruth (November 22, 2006). "One Syllable of Civility". The Washington Post. pp. A21. 
  7. ^ OED under "Democrat" 4 citing the London Spectator November 15, 1890 p. 676.
  8. ^ Safire (1993), 176
  9. ^ Annual Report of the Secretary, Volumes 3-4; Volumes 8-9. Detroit: Michigan Club. 1890. p. 48. 
  10. ^ Safire (1988), p. 35
  11. ^ Lyman (1958) p 239
  12. ^ National Party Platforms, 1840–1996, editors Kirk H. Porter, and Donald Bruce Johnson, (1996).
  13. ^ Feuerlicht (1957)
  14. ^ Congressional Quarterly, The Presidential nominating conventions, 1968 (1968) p. 9
  15. ^ a b Woodward, Calvin (August 26, 2008). "No more 'Democrat wars' for GOP spinmeisters?". Associated Press. Retrieved October 25, 2010. 
  16. ^ Ombudsman, "Since When Did It Become the Democrat Party?", NPR March 26, 2010, online
  17. ^ Copperud, American Usage and Style: The Consensus (1980) pp. 101–2
  18. ^ Jean Yates, Master the Basics: English (2006) p, 64
  19. ^ Ruth Walker, "Republicans, Democrats, and the Afghan on the couch", Christian Science Monitor Jan. 27, 2005
  20. ^ "Bush Courts Black Voters at Urban League" by the Associated Press, July 23, 2004.
  21. ^ Official 2007 State of the Union Transcript Archived May 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ Abramowitz, Michael; Kane, Paul (February 4, 2007). "At Democrats' Meeting, Bush Appeals for Cooperation". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 31, 2007. 
  23. ^ Noam H. Levey (February 4, 2007). "Bush reaches across Partisan divide". Los Angeles Times. 
  24. ^ Donald Trump Cedar Rapids Iowa Rally. December 19, 2015. Event occurs at 1:09:50. 
  25. ^ Yellen, Sherman (April 29, 2007). "The Republicants". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 25, 2010. 
  26. ^ "The New Word: Republicon". Daily Kos. October 5, 2007. 
  27. ^ "RepubliCON Watch". Newsvine. 
  28. ^ a b Mullins, Anne Schroeder (February 26, 2009). "Don't call Democrats, Democrats!". The Politico. 
  29. ^ "Rep. Kaptur scolds GOP: 'Democrat Party' doesn't exist". March 3, 2009. Retrieved March 4, 2009. 


  • This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "Democrat Party (epithet)", which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License but not under the GFDL.
  • Copperud, Roy H. (1980). American Usage and Style: The Consensus. pp. 101–102. 
  • Feuerlicht, Ignace. "Democrat Party", American Speech, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Oct. 1957), pp. 228–231 (online in JSTOR)
  • Lyman, John (October 1958). "Democrat Party". American Speech. 33 (3): 239–40. JSTOR 453220. 
  • Nunberg, Geoffrey (2005). "The Case for Democracy", "Fresh Air" commentary (radio broadcast), January 19, 2005
  • Nunberg, Geoffrey (2006), Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show, 2006.
  • Safire, William (1988). You Could Look It Up: More on Language. Times Books. 
  • Safire, William (1993). Safire's New Political Dictionary. Random House. ISBN 0-679-42068-1. 
  • Sperber, Hans; Trittschuh, Travis (1962). American Political Terms: An Historical Dictionary. pp. 117–23. 
  • Walker, Ruth. "Republicans, Democrats, and the Afghan on the couch", Christian Science Monitor, January 27, 2005

Further reading[edit]

  • Garner, Bryan A. (1998). A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. p. 196. 
  • Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. 1994. pp. 328–29, 667. 
  • Cassidy, Frederic G.; Hall, Joan H., eds. (1991). Dictionary of American Regional English: Volume 2. pp. 37–38, 1036.