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Ratfucking is an American slang term for behind the scenes (covert) political sabotage or dirty tricks, particularly pertaining to elections. It was brought to public attention by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in All the President's Men (1974), the book that chronicled their investigative reporting of the Watergate scandal.


As a term, ratfucking was commonplace in Southern California and possibly other college slang from the late 1950s to at least the early 1960s, meaning a prank. Around that time, Tony Auth was the cartoonist for the Daily Bruin. One of his cartoons showed a large, inebriated rat suggesting to another rat, "Let's go PF-ing tonight!", a play on ratfucking or "RF-ing". The lead story in the January 6, 1961, California Tech, Caltech's student newspaper, was headlined, "Tech Scores First Televised RF". The article chronicled the Great Rose Bowl Hoax, which had just taken place. A political context was irrelevant to such usage. At the end of the article, an Editor's Note both explained and bowdlerized: "RF (for Royal Flush) is a contemporary college colloquialism for a clever prank."[1]

Woodward and Bernstein's account in All the President's Men reports that many Republican staffers—H. R. Haldeman (pre-1948),[citation needed] Donald Segretti (early 1960s), White House aide Tim Elbourne, Ronald Louis Ziegler, and Dwight Chapin—had attended the University of Southern California (USC) and participated in the highly competitive student elections there. Additionally, there were strategists such as Roger Stone whose work continued on for decades. At USC, future Watergate scandal participants Chapin, Ziegler, Elbourne, Segretti, Gordon Strachan, and Herbert Porter were members of Trojans for Representative Government. United Press International reporter Karlyn Barker sent Woodward and Bernstein a memo, "Notes On the USC Crowd", which outlined the connection. Fraternities, sororities, and underground fraternal coordinating organizations—such as Theta Nu Epsilon and their splintered rival "Trojans for Representative Government"—engaged in creative tricks and underhanded tactics to win student elections.[2][3] Officially, control over minor funding and decision-making on campus life was at stake; the positions also gave bragging rights and prestige. The young operators called these practices ratfucking. The tactics were either promoted by or garnered the interest of major political figures on the USC board of trustees, such as Dean Rusk and John A. McCone.[4][5]


The term received media attention in Australia after it was reported that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used the term in a speech at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Summit.[6][7] During the 2016 Republican Party presidential primaries, candidate Ted Cruz said that "Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him", a euphemized reference to the term.[8][9] That same year, Rolling Stone magazine wrote about the term and Roger Stone.[10] In August 2017, journalist Marcy Wheeler received the disapproval of the Federal Communications Commision (FCC) when she used the term in a radio broadcast. Wheeler maintained that the word has become a term of art in political science and is thus not an obscenity; FCC officials disagreed.[11]

On May 23, 2019, scholar Svetlana Lokhova filed a claim in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against Stefan Halper, claiming that "Stefan Halper is a ratfucker and a spy" with a footnote that "ratfucking" is a well-known political term.[12] After the results of the 2020 United States presidential election were called for Joe Biden and there were attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election as Trump refused to concede, John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, said on one of his shows following the set up of the Trump voter fraud hotline that "a political term for election shenanigans is rat[s fucking]. So if you, say, happen to have any access to images of Pennsylvania-based rats fucking, it's frankly your patriotic duty to send them to the Trump campaign straight away." While saying this, Oliver displayed an image of rats engaged in sexual intercourse Stay Up Late and the online link to the voter fraud hotline's website.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tech Scores First Televised RF". California Tech. January 6, 1961. Retrieved September 8, 2022.
  2. ^ "Excerpts from American Twilight". The Green Institute. July 2005. Archived from the original on July 7, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2007.
  3. ^ Taibbi, Matt (March 24, 2006). "Meet Mr. Republican: Jack Abramoff". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on April 22, 2006.
  4. ^ "University of Southern California Trustees (1979)". Namebase. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
  5. ^ "From CIA to USC: Biography of a Trustee". Namebase. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
  6. ^ Marr, David (June 7, 2010). "Power Trip: The political journey of Kevin Rudd (extract)". Quarterly Essay. No. 38. Retrieved July 22, 2018.
  7. ^ "Rats from a sinking summit - Fully [sic]". Fully [sic]. June 9, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
  8. ^ Rhodan, Maya; Elliot, Phillip (March 25, 2016). "Ted Cruz Blames Donald Trump for 'Garbage' National Enquirer Story". Time. Retrieved July 22, 2018.
  9. ^ Davidson Sorkin, Amy (March 29, 2016). "Donald and Melania and Heidi and Ted". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 22, 2018.
  10. ^ Zimmer, Ben (January 25, 2019). "Roger Stone and 'Ratf—ing': A Short History". Politico. Retrieved March 6, 2024.
  11. ^ Wheeler, Marcy [@emptywheel] (August 2, 2017). "I honestly thought "ratfuck" was considered a technical political term, not a modification of "fuck."" (Tweet). Retrieved October 20, 2019 – via Twitter.
  12. ^ Gerstein, Josh (May 24, 2019). "Intelligence scholar sues Cambridge academic, U.S. news outlets over reports on Flynn links". Politico. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  13. ^ "Election Results 2020". Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. HBO. Retrieved December 19, 2021 – via YouTube.