At a recent meeting with the Wall Street Journal editorial board, Republican presidential candidate John McCain admitted he "doesn't really understand economics" and then pointed to his adviser and former Senate colleague, Phil Gramm - whom he had brought with him to the meeting - as the expert he turns to on the subject, The Huffington Post has learned.
The incident was confirmed by a source familiar with the proceedings of the meeting.
On the campaign trail, McCain has often made light of his lack of economic policy understanding. But his concern over such a shortcoming may be even greater then he has suggested.
This is not the first time McCain has turned to Gramm as a buffer for criticism of his economic views - or lack thereof. Gramm, who regards himself as a budget-balancing, anti-government spending Republican, was brought on board a sputtering McCain campaign last summer. Since then, McCain has staged a political recovery and is now a serious contender for the GOP nomination.
After joining the campaign, Gramm has remained by the candidate's side to "vouch for Mr. McCain's fiscal and security bona fides," according to the Dallas Morning News. Even prior to McCain's flop, Gramm was advocating on his behalf, writing a flattering February 2007 oped in the Wall Street Journal on his behalf.
During his 18 years in the Senate, Gramm helped spearhead the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which allowed commercial and investment banks -- like Citigroup-- to more easily merge. The Texas Republican ran for president in 1996, but dropped out prior to the New Hampshire primary, despite at one point having $25 million in the campaign coffers.
McCain and Gramm are two long-time colleagues, and Gramm shores up a political weak-spot that McCain readily acknowledges exists. In recent campaign stops the Arizona Republican touted his desire for a new round of tax cuts, as well as encouraging investment and economic stimulus by ending the alternative-minimum tax. But he also admitted that, "the issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." Adding, "I've got [former Fed Chairman Alan] Greenspan's book."
Even as far back as 2005, McCain was admitting that he lacked depth in economic policy. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, columnist Stephen Moore offered a probing and at times blunt assessment of McCain's economic policies. "[He] readily departs from Reaganomics," Moore wrote. "His philosophy is best described as a work in progress. He is refreshingly blunt when he tells me: "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated."
And to whom did McCain tell Moore he turns to for advise? "His foremost economic guru," wrote the columnist, "is former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm (who would almost certainly be Treasury secretary in a McCain administration)."
McCain's office did not return multiple requests for comment. The Wall Street Journal, as a company policy, does not comment on meetings that take place privately with their editorial board.
"People around the table were sort of taken back," said the source . "They thought McCain would have better answers."