The ostensible trigger for former Sen. Phil Gramm’s sudden resignation on Friday as national co-chairman of Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign was a Robert Novak column released on Saturday, sources in the McCain campaign told The Washington Times.
In the column, Mr. Novak said the two longtime Republican comrades had “patched up their relationship” and that Mr. Gramm would remain as Mr. McCain’s economic adviser and campaign surrogate.
A senior McCain official and friend of Mr. Gramm’s said privately that the former Texan learned of the Novak column and wanted out of the campaign. Mr. Gramm “was not pushed; he jumped,” the official said.
The resignation cleared the decks for Carly Fiorina, the ex-Hewlett-Packard chairwoman, to be Mr. McCain’s top economic adviser and replace Mr. Gramm as the leading prospect for Treasury secretary in a McCain administration.
Long an icon of traditional conservatives, Mr. Gramm was considered the towering intellectual figure in the McCain campaign, dispensing not only economic but foreign policy advice the candidate could not find elsewhere - until Mr. Gramm, during an editorial board meeting at The Washington Times on July 9, made some off-handed remarks about Americans tending to whine about an economy that he said is in fact still highly competitive with the rest of the world.
He said the only U.S. economic recession today is “mental.”
The instant-response Barack Obama campaign team leaped to exploit the Gramm remarks as indicative of how out of touch Mr. McCain and his advisers are with the real world of mortgage foreclosures and soaring gas and food prices.
Then things got confused for an often confusing McCain campaign.
Mr. McCain, who was Mr. Gramm’s 1996 national presidential campaign chairman, said forget about Treasury - Mr. Gramm might instead get some obscure diplomatic post, if the people there would have him.
Nevertheless, Mr. Gramm publicly apologized to Mr. McCain for the remarks, and the issue appeared to drift off the political screen. And the McCain campaign said Mr. Gramm would continue as economic sage.
But on Sunday, Mrs. Fiorina declared, “I don’t think Senator Gramm will any longer be speaking for John McCain, and I think John McCain was crystal clear about that.”
Late Friday the McCain campaign released Mr. Gramm’s statement, in which he said, “To end this distraction and get on with the real debate, I hereby step down as co-chair of the McCain campaign and join the growing number of rank-and-file McCain supporters.”
That sparked talk among GOP insiders late Friday and early Saturday about who inside the campaign was out to get Mr. Gramm from the beginning and had maneuvered Friday’s sudden exit.
The senior McCain official insisted privately Saturday that “there was no move afoot to push him out - I was standing here when it happened.”View Entire Story
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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