Is the era of Dick Wadhams’ ‘thug politics’ over?

On Friday, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) was in Denver to talk of the paralyzing effects of a failed health care system. Among the realities: “One half of all bankruptcies, one half of all home foreclosures are related to medical costs.” Daschle’s appearance was a reminder of the sharp-tongued Dick Wadhams, who made his name known on the national stage by unseating the former Senate Minority Leader from South Dakota, employing, among other things, nasty name-calling. Sound familiar?

“The cost of health care is going to destroy many of our manufacturing industries unless we fix the system,” Daschle told a crowd of about 500 gathered at the 2008 Colorado Health Care Summit on Friday, as the Colorado Independent reported.

“Health care costs are skyrocketing, outpacing economic growth and that of wages,” he said. “Rising health care costs are recognized as the nation’s No. 1 long-term economic and budget challenge.” If nothing changes, he said, health care costs could double over the next six years. “Status quo could be the most costly option of all.”

This is policy stuff, to be sure, and it’s always helpful to compare such wonk with the words uttered during the heat of the campaign.

From a September 2006 Washington Monthly article, headlined “Rove 2.0: Dick Wadhams is the next Republican maestro of cutthroat campaigning: Can Democrats figure out how to stop him?”

In 2004, when Wadhams was helping Republican John Thune to unseat South Dakota Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, every weapon in the arsenal was unfurled. There were damaging storylines: Daschle was a “pathological liar,” a farm-boy turned effete Michael Moore groupie who had reliably “emboldened Saddam Hussein.”

There was base-filing: At many of the state’s churches, packages arrived filled with bumper stickers carrying the slogan “Vote Daschle, Vote for Sodomy.” (Wadhams was careful to distance himself personally from those deliveries but happy to discuss them.) And there was Wadhams as a one-man campaign wrecking ball: When Daschle communications director Dan Pfeiffer tried to squeeze in a media hit after an election-related courthouse faceoff, Wadhams stood just off-camera bellowing “Bullshit! Bullshit!” like an outraged baseball fan cat-calling a major-league ump.

After Daschle, of course, Wadhams moved on to Brian Schweitzer, now the governor of Montana who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate against Conrad Burns. From The Washington Monthly: “Wadhams told an [Associated Press] scribe that Schweitzer had performed like a ‘smart-ass thug.’”

And six years ago, “when Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado faced a challenge from Democrat Tom Strickland, Wadhams described Strickland as an untrustworthy ‘lawyer-lobbyist,’ and ‘the dirtiest candidate in America.’”

Wadhams doesn’t appear responsible for the Macaca moment of his former boss George Allen of two years ago. But fresh off this year’s unsuccessful Bob Schaffer campaign against Mark Udall, a little reminder of his latest grabby claims is in order: namely, that he and his candidate are “going to shove a bunch of 30-second ads up [Udall’s] ass.”

Could it be — to address The Washington Monthly’s question, “Can Democrats figure out how to stop him?” — that they have? Can eloquence, and the need to get serious at last, be triumphing over the politics of thuggery?

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