The Definition of a Country Club Republican

Why Being a Wealthy Elite Won't Win You Many Votes

George W. Bush and his family were portrayed as country club Republicans.
Former President George W. Bush was described by some in the Republican Party as a "country club Republican.". Getty Images News

The term country club Republican doesn't have anything to do with golf. It's used to describe Republican politicians and voters who are wealthier than most Americans. Country club Republicans care more about fiscal issues such as cutting taxes and less about the social issues such as abotion and gay marriage that drive religious conservatives to the polls.

The term country club Republican is most often used in a negative context to describe an elitist politician who is out of touch with middle-class Americans.

The term was applied often to former President George H.W. Bush despite his attempts to shake off the image over the years. Bush's son, George W. Bush, was also described by some as a country-club Republican.

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Paul Stanley, a reporter for The Christian Post, defined the country club Republican as someone who is moderate on social issues including abortion and gay marriage. "Often referred to as 'country-club' Republicans, they are mainly business types who care more about fiscal issues and try to avoid social issues at all costs," he wrote in November 2012.

Origins of the Term Country Club Republican

The term country club Republican has been in use since the early 1960s, according to Barry Popik, a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, Dictionary of American Regional English, and Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

Writes Popik: "The term 'country club Republican/conservative' describes someone who is rich and who attends country clubs, but who doesn’t have the experience or the values of average Americans."

Similar terms include "cocktail conservative" and "hot tub Republican."

Recent Examples of Country Club Republicans

Members of the Bush family have been described as country club Republicans.

In a biography of George H.W. Bush, the Miller Center at the University of Virginia noted the earliest members of the Bush dynasty were country club Republicans and that the former president sought to shake off that image:

"It was more than a historical footnote that Reagan's running mate in 1980 was Prescott Bush's son, George, who had transitioned away from a Planned Parenthood, Houston country-club Republican. With the emergence of his twang-talking, ranch-owning, anti-abortion, Christian-espousing eldest son, the transition for the Bush clan—and the Republican Party—was complete."

Still, many Americans saw George H.W. Bush as the type of country-club Republican the one-term president sought to distance himself from in his unsuccessful 1992 re-election campaign.

Wrote The Christian Science Monitor of Bush that year:

The president's holiday at his Kennebunkport home last August stands out as a prime example of what not to do if you are president when your country's economy is in a serious slump, people are losing their jobs, and those who still have theirs are scared. Each day Bush could be seen on the evening news lounging in a golf cart, taking reporter's queries about the worsening economy. Or fishing from his cigarette boat, a broad smile on his face. Or pitching horseshoes on the manicured lawn of his estate. It left an impression; focus groups keep playing that image of Bush back to reporters and pollsters.

He was, in other words, the epitome of a country-club Republican. And he lost the 1992 election.

In the 2008 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Barack Obama portrayed Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, as a country club Republican.

One of Obama's campaign ads stated:

"How many houses does he own? John McCain says he can't even remember anymore. Well, it's seven. No wonder McCain just said the fundamentals of our economy are strong, and anyone making less than five-million-dollars-a-year is middle-class."

The tactic was particularly effective at a time when the United States was in a harsh recession, often called The Great Recession.