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This text was excerpted from this newspaper article (fifteenth paragraph)

“They don’t want to get bludgeoned,” a person who served in Congress told me. “Their mind is looking for a rationale for not having to do it.” In addition, this person added, Mr. Trump has “conditioned people in the base so much so that it’s just ‘us versus them’ and that if you give an inch on him, you’re just giving the other side what they want. You’ve made yourself a ‘useful idiot.’”

The parts of the paragraph that are between quotes are answers given by a Republican who explains why many Republicans are still supporting Trump.

Does the sentence in bold mean if a Republican chooses to neutrally distance himself from Trump to some extent, or if a Republican chooses to slightly criticizes Trump?

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The cited usage (if you give an inch on him) is a non-standard "mangling" of the idiomatic standard...

Give someone an inch and they'll take a mile
if you do a small favour for someone, they will become greedy and ask you to do bigger and bigger favours for them and make you regret doing the first favour.

You won't find any dictionaries defining Give an inch on someone [and they'll take a mile]1 because no-one normally says that. In fact, when I search for the quoted text string give an inch on him, Google Books returns no written instances at all.

But that above search does helpfully retrieve and display the specific example (on Google Internet, not Books) from "a person who served in Congress" as cited by OP above - which isn't so much a coincidence as clear evidence that the construction is very "non-standard".


Personally, I suspect the cited writer is no better at logical thinking than he is at expressing himself using "standard English".

The only way I can make sense of an intended meaning is if I assume the writer is so firmly committed to the "anti-Trump" position that he takes it for granted we will interpret the other side as being a reference to Trump and his supporters. To any normal reader, the reference to the other side (and what they want) immediately following him (Trump) naturally implies contrast. But in fact, this writer sees him = Trump = the other side = they as all being just different ways of referring to his ideological enemies.

So what he's actually saying is something along the lines of...

Anyone who accepts that there are any justifications for any of Trump's policies is just a "useful idiot" - unwittingly assisting "the enemy" by accepting that Trump might not be entirely "evil".


1 Note that the standard "ditransitive" usage is to give A B = to give [someone] [something]. We can optionally reverse the indirect and direct objects there, in which case we must include a preposition - to give [something] to [someone]. But it's extremely dialectal / "folksy" to use on instead of to in such constructions. Learners should avoid this.

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    There is a standard usage called “don’t give an inch”. See The free dictionary or Cambridge. Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 12:38
  • Erm... that's usually just a short-form derived from the "original" anyway. Which I'm pretty sure actually started out as Give him an inch and he'll take an ell, but we usually say mile today because no-one measures distance in ells any more. Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 13:05
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I think definition 7 from the entry on 'give' on Lexico applies here, but I could be wrong. A similar synonym would be 'budge'.

[no object] Alter in shape under pressure rather than resist or break.

‘that chair doesn't give’

Lexico

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  • I think a closer synonym could be 'renounce' as in 'if you renounce on him one inch...'. When they renounce on him, is it by taking some distance from him in a neutral way, or by criticizing him to some moderate extent?
    – Norbert
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 11:52

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