WASHINGTON -- A handful of prominent Republicans are starting to realize that calling their political opponents names might not be the first step to electoral salvation.
The GOP's state chairmen and other national committee members are supposed to vote today on a resolution that would, basically, say Democrats are socialists. Party chairman Michael Steele and others have been working behind the scenes to try to tone down the original language, which would call on Democrats to actually change their name to the "Socialist Democrat Party" (note: that's Democrat, not Democratic, in keeping with GOP style); the alternative version would just declare that Republicans disapprove of "the Democrats' march to socialism."
Various GOP leaders have been calling for the Republicans to be the party of ideas, but somehow creative adventures in semantics doesn't seem to be exactly what they had in mind. And there's no guarantee yet that the attempt to water down the name-calling will even work. So as the vote looms, a few Republicans who are trying to keep the entire party apparatus from regressing to kindergarten are speaking out against the plan.
"That doesn't do any good," said former RNC boss Haley Barbour, now the governor of Mississippi (and a possible 2012 presidential candidate), at a breakfast this morning sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "That's not useful. Calling people names is not useful. If I were on the committee [that's handling the issue], it wouldn't get out of the committee."
Another influential Republican, Colorado chairman Dick Wadhams, told me on Tuesday he also thought the whole idea was silly. "Trying to label Democrats 'Socialists,' or the 'Socialist Democrats,' I don't believe in that," Wadhams said. "We have to focus in a respectful way on our differences in policy, and I don't think that resolution hits the spot. To call on them to call themselves 'Democratic Socialists,' I just think that's kind of absurd."
Wadhams made his name in national politics running a brutal campaign for Sen. John Thune against Tom Daschle, and then moved on to oversee George Allen's losing fight against Jim Webb in Virginia; when I covered Washington for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader during the 2004 Daschle-Thune campaign, Wadhams screamed at me and hung up on me frequently. So take note, Republicans: if he thinks something is too juvenile to work politically, it probably is.