WASHINGTON — Republicans on Wednesday abandoned an effort to label their opponents the "Democrat Socialist Party," ending a fight within the GOP ranks that reflected the divide between those who want a more centrist message and those seeking a more aggressive, conservative voice.
Supporters of the resolution asking the Democratic Party to change its name instead agreed to accept language urging Democrats to "stop pushing our country towards socialism and government control."
The initial name-changing resolution had drawn criticism from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Florida GOP Chairman James Greer called the idea "stupid" and Colorado Chairman Dick Wadhams called it "absurd." They said it made Republicans look petty during a troubling time for the nation.
The Democratic National Committee said the proposal reflected a political party so devoid of ideas that it was resorting to "name calling" and "petty politics."
Supporters dismissed the criticism Wednesday and said the publicity generated by the proposal was good for the GOP.
"It has generated the debate we had hoped for," said Indiana committeeman James Bopp. "It was an effort to educate the American people, and it was successful."
David Norcross, a committeeman from New Jersey, said it was a bid to raise awareness of the Democratic agenda so that Americans can be "properly fearful."
In a statement following the resolution's adoption, Steele said he was pleased the measure focused on "the Democrats' policies and their destructive effects on America's economic engine, rather than attempting to rename our opponents."
Henry Barbour, chairman of the RNC committee that handles resolutions, said the new language more closely reflects the sentiments of the full party and "helps unify our party."
At one point during informal discussions of the name change, some attending the meeting of state party leaders and other party officials said the proposed name might also include the label "nationalist." But Bopp said including "nationalist" was never proposed.
The RNC also approved resolutions honoring the late Republican congressman Jack Kemp, commending Republican members of Congress for opposing recent bailouts, and calling on Republicans to abandon local spending provisions known as earmarks.
The party's meeting this week was held as Republicans are trying to chart a new course after election losses in 2006 and 2008 that left them out of power in the White House, Congress and statehouses across the country.
Without a successor to former President George W. Bush, the party is in the midst of an intense debate over its identity and facing an emboldened Democratic Party that's grown larger and stronger under President Barack Obama's leadership.