play the card

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play the (something) card

To bring up a particular, typically contentious issue or idea in order to gain an advantage, as in an argument or political agenda. Playing the race card like that doesn't change the truth about the topic at hand. He always plays the Jewish card whenever he feels like someone is attacking him.
See also: card, play

play the — card

exploit the specified issue or idea mentioned, especially for political advantage.
This expression comes from the view expressed in 1886 by Lord Randolph Churchill that, concerning Irish Home Rule, ‘the Orange card would be the one to play’.
1998 Edinburgh Student The SNP, who dominate the Scottish independence campaign, argue that they do not play the race card.
See also: card, play