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There was a phrase, ‘the governor cuts against his core argument” on the issue of how to handle undocumented immigrants in the following sentence in Time magazine’s (Nov 23) article titled, “Christie’s leadership of GOP governors elevates and tests him.":

“Earlier this month, Christie dodged the question on Sunday shows. The reporter asked Christie to answer as a yes or no, to eliminate any confusion on immigration reform. When the reporter pointed out he didn’t answer the question or state his position on the issue, Christie replied, “Yeah, well, I don’t have to answer the question the way you want me to.”

This is quickly becoming a pattern for the Republican governor that cuts against his core argument to voters.” - http://swampland.time.com/2013/11/23/christies-leadership-of-gop-governors-elevates-and-tests-him

I surmise “cut against” in the above sentence means “contradict,” like it “cuts against the grains,” or go reverse. However neither Cambridge nor Oxford English Dictionary carries “cut against sth” as an idiom, while Google Ngram shows a long-standing usage of “cut against,” which can be dated back to 1840s.

Is ‘cut against’ an idiom, cliché, or just an incidental combination of ‘cut’ and preposition?

What would it be a single word (verb) to replace it?

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  • I saw a paragraph - Trump’s pronouncement cut against mounting criticism over the remarks with medical experts and manufacturers warning Americans against ingesting disinfectant. - in an April 27 Washington Post article. I interprète the phrase - cut against - just as “go against.” I’m not sure if my take is right or not.
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Apr 27 '20 at 22:57
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Like you, I could not find a listing of cut against in a dictionary. However, many dictionaries do list the phrasal verbs go against and cut across (meaning “oppose” and “affect multiple groups” respectively).

I wondered if cut against is either a mix-up of these two phrases, or else a sharper wording of go against, as the word cut can mean “to move sharply toward”, which would be a rough synonym of go in that context.

Indeed, cut against is found throughout literature, but many of those usages are literal and not figurative (as in, “When slicing a roast, always cut against the grain”). I searched for some instances where the phrase was being used in a context similar to your Time quote, and managed to find a few:

I agree that “absolute rights” are often defeated by “compelling interests,” this fact does not seem to me to cut against my claim that our culture is rights-based. (R. S. Markovits, 1998)

Even the two-year lead time .. will likely be insufficient to attract new entrants into a distressed industry with high start-up costs and industry-specific investment. This, too, may cut against allowing the merger of firms in a distressed industry. (First, Fox, and Pitofsky, 1991)

These outcomes cut against the rational-game-theoretic approach that sees regimes as the resultants of nations rationally pursuing mutual gains in variable-sum games. (G. M. Gallarotti, 1995)

These usages seem to indicate the phrase can be used to mean oppose or contradict, so it seems go against and cut against can be used synonymously in some contexts.

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I would vote for "idiom", because it's in fairly common usage, and it means something other than what the words themselves mean.

To replace with a single word:

"This is quickly becoming a pattern for the Republican governor that contradicts his core argument to voters.

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  • 'I would vote for "idiom", because it's in fairly common [use]' and 'Indeed, cut against is found throughout literature, but many of those usages are literal and not figurative (as in, “When slicing a roast, always cut against the grain”). I searched for some instances where the phrase was being used in a context similar to your Time quote, and managed to find a few' [J.R. bolding mine] show different levels of effort put into research and argue different levels of support for idiom status. Jul 13 '19 at 14:22

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