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Richard Grenell's noisy departure from the Romney campaign

May 02, 2012|By Jon Healey
  • The Twitter page of Richard Grenell, who stepped down from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign shortly after being hired.
The Twitter page of Richard Grenell, who stepped down from Mitt Romney's… (Twitter screen shot )

Could the Richard Grenell affair have turned out any worse for Mitt Romney?

In mid-April Romney hired Grenell, a former spokesman for former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, to become the foreign-policy spokesman for his campaign, starting this month. Grenell happens to be openly gay, and a vocal advocate of gay marriage -- not that those aspects have anything to do with the war in Afghanistan or Iran's nuclear program.

On Tuesday the Washington Post reported that Grenell quit his new job because of pressure from "anti-gay conservatives." The political blogosphere has been buzzing ever since with competing theories about why Grenell really stepped down: the problem was his openness about being gay (the New Yorker); his gay politics (the Washington Examiner); his snarky tweets, particularly about women (Huffington Post); or just the poor fit between the aggressive Grenell and the "buttoned-down" Romney campaign (Politico).

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

Romney's team says it tried to persuade Grenell not to leave. And in a statement Grenell gave to the Post's Jennifer Rubin, he thanks Romney for the "clear message" that "being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team." But the statement also suggests he didn't think he could be himself in Romney's service:

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. 

That "hyper-partisan discussion" could just as easily be a reference to the grief he was getting from liberals about his tweets as to the pressure from the right about his sexuality. Nevertheless, some publications clung to the "anti-gay conservatives" angle, noting how conservative radio host Bryan Fischer had practically turned cartwheels over Grenell's departure.

So, to sum up: Romney hires an openly gay person, drawing fire from social conservatives. Before the new hire puts in his first official day on the job, he quits, fueling speculation that Romney caved to intolerance on the right. In chasing down the story, the media gives more exposure to some downright nasty things the new hire had said or done over the years, including some remarkably catty comments about Newt Gingrich's wife, Callista (among other well-known females).

Meanwhile, President Obama goes to Afghanistan to remind the public that U.S. troops successfully hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden one year ago, and to remind voters of his plans to bring the troops home by 2014. Romney really could have used a skillful foreign-policy spinmeister to counter all that. Too bad he didn't have one.

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