“Hardball” is a no-nonsense attitude or approach to getting what you want in politics.
It’s a term borrowed from the sport of baseball, where it refers to the actual hard ball used in the game as opposed to the softer one used in softball.
When applied to politics, it signifies the use of aggressive, uncompromising, and often ruthless strategies to achieve a goal or advantage.
As Chris Matthews writes in the introduction of his book, Hardball:
Let me define terms: hardball is clean, aggressive Machiavellian politics.
It is the discipline of gaining and holding power, useful to any profession or undertaking, but practiced most openly and unashamedly in the world of public affairs.
For instance, a politician might play hardball during a budget negotiation by refusing to compromise on certain demands and threatening to shut down the government unless these are met.
Another example might be a political leader who uses hardball tactics to maintain control within their party, by threatening to withdraw support or resources from those who do not toe the line.
An example from the book, All the President’s Men:
This is the hardest hardball that’s ever been played in this town. We all have to be very careful, in the office and out.
The term is often used in a pejorative sense, implying a lack of ethical consideration or disregard for the norms and conventions of political discourse and negotiation.
However, “hardball politics” can also be used to denote determination, assertiveness, and a willingness to fight for one’s principles or objectives, especially in the face of opposition or adversity.
The appropriateness or acceptability of hardball tactics can depend on one’s perspective, political alignment, or assessment of the stakes involved.
Examples of “hardball” in a sentence:
- In an attempt to pass the controversial legislation, the senator decided to play hardball, threatening to filibuster unless his colleagues agreed to support the bill.
- The city’s mayor has been known to play political hardball, using her influence to pressure city council members into supporting her policies.
- During the negotiations, the union played hardball, refusing to back down from their demands for better wages and working conditions, and threatening to strike if their demands were not met.