Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), who will head the Republican Senate campaign committee in the new election cycle, met with key administration, elected and party officials as well as outside conservatives yesterday to begin an effort to get the GOP message muddle of the last election cycle behind the party. The idea was to start trying to formulate a more coherent message that Republican Senate and House candidates can run on in 1992.
Two weeks ago, Gramm and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu got into what some viewed as a less-than-friendly debate on the same subject when Sununu hosted a dinner for William J. Bennett, the designated new head of the Republican Party. According to some attendees, Gramm suggested that the 1990 election results and conflicting budget and taxes messages from the White House that preceded the voting were not helpful to Republican candidates, an opinion challenged by Sununu.
Sununu was not invited to the Gramm gathering of what the senator called "some of the better political minds of the party," but other key administration thinkers were. Among them were Budget Director Richard G. Darman; Vice President Quayle's chief of staff, William Kristol; and Robert Teeter, political adviser to President Bush and GOP candidates.
Gramm said yesterday the meeting was a "brainstorming session" about "where the party has been the past 20 years and where it should go the next 20" as well as the more specific problem of where it should go in January, when Congress reconvenes.
Gramm, thought to harbor presidential ambitions, said, "I am not worried about rehashing old battles. I'm worried about battles to come."
The Gramm session joins similar efforts outside the administration by Republicans trying to pick up the pieces after the intra-party fights of the 1990 cycle, particularly among GOP candidates who sharply attacked Bush's reneging on his campaign pledge not to raise taxes. Gramm said yesterday his was not a peacemaking effort as much as it was an effort to put the past election behind the party and move on. But most of the parties to the recent feuding, including Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), attended. All except Sununu.