News broke Tuesday that Richard Grenell had stepped down from his job as national security and foreign policy spokesperson for the Romney campaign only a couple of weeks after the appointment had been announced. The reason: Push back from conservatives because Grenell is openly gay. Now the media is digging a little more deeply into the issue and wondering if Mitt Romney’s campaign also failed to take conservative opposition into account when they hired Grenell.
The New York Times reports that Grenell’s sexual orientation was never an issue for campaign staffers. The paper says Grenell “sailed” through interviews with the campaign’s comms director, Gail Gitcho and senior advisor, Eric Fehrnstrom. However, Grenell brought up the fact that his sexuality could be “an issue.”
Grenell initially ran into some trouble with some now-deleted tweets, then was faced with anger from Christian conservatives who said they were “betrayed” by the new hire. At that point Grenell wanted to respond by doing his job, but the campaign told him to stand down even as they put out statements supporting him. Finally, on April 26, Grenell was told to stay quiet on a conference call about national security. The campaign thought the issue would blow over, there was no evidence that it would, and Grenell resigned.
So the question is: Should the Romney campaign have expected this sort of reaction? In our opinion, yes. Conservatives were inevitably going to take notice of Grenell’s hire because he’s a well-known political figure from the George W. Bush administration, his sexuality, and because conservatives are on the look-out for cracks in Romney’s conservative armor. The Romney campaign should’ve been better prepared to answer this backlash.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Ruth Marcus points out that Romney has a history of ducking controversy rather than facing it head-on. In that case, it could’ve been Grenell who, sensing that his appointment would spark anger, didn’t think through the fact that Romney and his people wouldn’t be eager to jump to his defense.
More than that, Grenell’s sexuality should even be “an issue.”