Just one week ago, The Atlantic heralded Mitt Romney’s hiring of an openly gay spokesman for foreign policy issues as “a breakthrough in the world of Republican presidential campaigns.”
Seven days later, that spokesman had already stepped down, citing conservatives whose outrage over his spot in the campaign made it impossible to do his job.
“While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign,” Richard Grenell told the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin in a statement. “I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.”
Romney made good on his word that “I don’t discriminate” on the basis of sexual orientation when he hired former Bush administration U.N. spokesperson Richard Grenell, who is openly gay, to be his foreign policy spokesman.
Unfortunately for Grenell, Romney’s support wasn’t enough.
The Post first reported Tuesday that Grenell left Romney’s campaign after just a couple weeks on the job. Grenell’s departure, according to Rubin, came in response to numerous conservatives upset that an advocate of gay marriage, who was himself gay, had landed a high-profile position on the campaign of the likely GOP presidential nominee.
Social conservatives were indeed wary of Grenell from the start and questioned Romney’s decision to hire him. Bryan Fischer, a social conservative known for claiming that President Obama “feminized” the Medal of Honor, among other things — reacted predictably to Grenell’s hiring.
“If the Secret Service scandal teaches us one thing, it is this: a man’s private sexual conduct matters when we’re talking about public office,” Fischer wrote. “Given the propensity for members of the homosexual community to engage in frequent and anonymous sexual encounters, the risk to national security of having a homosexual in a high-ranking position with access to secret information is obvious.”
But Grenell wasn’t scrutinized solely based on his sexual orientation or his views on marriage. Shortly after Team Romney announced his inclusion, Grenell was caught up in a Twitter imbroglio that led him to delete hundreds of snarky tweets targeting everyone from Newt and Callista Gingrich to Rachel Maddow.
Grenell’s record from his tenure at the U.N. was questioned as well, as the Huffington Post noted:
Grenell drew harsh criticism from reporters during his tenure as a U.N. spokesman. Former Reuters reporter Irwin Arieff told HuffPost that Grenell “often lied,” adding that he was the “most dishonest and deceptive press person” he’d worked with in over two decades on the job.
The Romney campaign said the resignation came over its objections.
“We are disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons,” Romney campaign manger Matt Rhoades told TPM in a statement. “We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill.”
Republican LGBT activists are seething, and say that the resignation shows some factions of the party still aren’t ready to see gay Americans living openly. (Neither Romney nor President Obama supports same-sex marriage — though Obama has said his stance is “evolving.”)
“It is unfortunate that while the Romney campaign made it clear that Grenell being an openly gay man was a non-issue for the governor and his team, the hyper-partisan discussion of issues unrelated to Ric’s national security qualifications threatened to compromise his effectiveness on the campaign trail,” Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper said in a statement. “Ric was essentially hounded by the far right and far left.”
Others were more willing to cast the blame on the GOP’s anti-gay right.
“Today is a day when national security and foreign affairs is front and center and Mitt Romney don’t have the best person available speaking on his behalf,” said GOProud co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia. “He has Bryan Fischer and Tony Perkins to thank for that.”
Fred Karger, openly gay Republican candidate for president, said he knows Grenell well and was “still getting over the shock” of the resignation when TPM reached him on the campaign trail in California. He blamed the Fischers and Perkins of the world and said he doubts Romney will risk angering them again, despite what Karger called a strong Romney record of hiring openly gay staff.
“It’s going to be difficult for Romney to take other steps like this. And that’s what’s really frightening to me,” Karger said. “It’s just too tough to stand up to these groups because they have a lot of money and power. You’ve got to be able to do that, that’s leadership.”
For his part, Fischer’s certainly happy to take the credit.
“If my public comments about Romney’s gay activist hire had anything to do with today’s decision, I did the guv a big favor,” he tweeted.