'Trump Too Small' is the Subject of a Supreme Court Case — What Does It Mean?

'Trump Too Small' is now the subject of a Supreme Court case, but many want to know what the phrase actually means and why it's in use.


Nov. 2 2023, Published 10:54 a.m. ET

Trump too small t-shirt design, from and back.
Source: Steve Elster

The Gist:

  • The Supreme Court is considering a case involving the phrase "Trump too small," which is a reference to the hand size of the former president, Donald Trump, and is meant to degrade him.
  • The phrase originated in 2016, when Trump was campaigning against Marco Rubio, and Rubio suggested that Trump's hands were unusually small for his size.
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As the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court takes on matters of grave importance to the welfare and health of our nation. Also, sometimes, they take on cases about whether a phrase like "Trump too small" is worthy of a trademark.

That case has led many people to wonder what the phrase actually means and where it comes from. Like so many things in our muddled political discourse, these phrases and their origins can be confusing, and it can sometimes even be unclear whether a specific phrase is meant to denigrate the former president or support him.

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Donald Trump without a tie behind him and the sky behind him.
Source: Getty Images

What does 'Trump too small' mean?

While the details of the Supreme Court case may have brought the phrase to a broader audience, "Trump too small" has been around since the former president first entered politics in 2016. The phrase stems from Trump's battles with Marco Rubio in the 2016 primary, when the Florida senator claimed that Trump had small hands in proportion to the rest of his body.

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Since then, the phrase has been taken up by those who oppose the president to suggest that both his hands and perhaps other parts of his body are smaller than they should be. Merchandise has been sold featuring the phrase, even going further by suggesting that the former president's "package" is too small. It's not the most subtle critique, but Trump has shown a special sensitivity about the size of his hands in the past, one that these shirts clearly hope to exploit.

Steve Elster wants to trademark the phrase.

In 2018, a man named Steve Elster attempted to trademark the phrase "Trump too small" for use on a t-shirt. At the time, he explained that the phrase was meant to convey “that some features of President Trump and his policies are diminutive.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected Steve's application, citing a law that says a trademark cannot contain a name without written permission from the person in question.

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Source: Twitter/@lawrencehurley

A US Court of Appeals overruled that decision, saying that it was a violation of Steve's free speech to deny him the trademark. The Biden administration then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, not because they wanted to save Trump from having to deal with the shirts, but because they wanted to defend their own office. Now, the Court will weigh in on whether the trademark should be granted.

Of course, "Trump too small" is just one of many phrases that have entered the political lexicon in recent years. Trump's emergence as a political force has brought plenty of strange things with it, and phrases like these are certainly among them.

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