The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, likes to play it safe. Romney avoids controversy, by any means necessary, even if he has to lie, flip-flop, or somersault.
When the news hit on the evening of April 19 that Richard Grenell, an openly gay Republican, had been appointed to be Romney’s national security and foreign policy spokesman, anti-gay GOP criticism erupted.
The elephant that sits neither quietly nor invisibly in the GOP’s room is the fact that the Republican Party is just as gay as the Democratic Party — just more closeted. Grenell would have been the party’s first out presidential campaign spokesman, signaling a shift in broadening its appeal to Republican moderates and LGBTQ voters. Instead, we witnessed the continued anti-gay stronghold of the GOP’s social conservatives. On May 1, less than a fortnight after his appointment to the campaign, Grenell abruptly resigned, embarrassing not only the Romney camp but the party’s growing anti-homophobic contingent.
In a statement obtained by “Right Turn,” Jennifer Rubin’s conservative commentary column in The Washington Post, Grenell stated:
“I have decided to resign from the Romney campaign as the Foreign Policy and National Security Spokesman. 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. 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.”
Grenell was a veteran Republican communications strategist when President George W. Bush appointed him as his Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy for the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. in 2001. Before going to the U.N., Grenell served as a spokesman for several Republican officials: New York Governor George Pataki, San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, and South Carolina then-Rep. Mark Sanford before he was elected governor. As a party loyalist who has been on the Republican scene for decades, no one would have fathomed a party backlash against Grenell.
Bryan J. Fischer, a conservative radio talk show host and Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, tweeted, “Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead.” But contrary to Fischer’s beliefs, Grenell is very much a family man. He and his partner have been together for nearly a decade. Fischer’s fear is that Grenell is a proponent for marriage equality, but Grenell is only publicly critical of Democratic leaders’ and Obama’s lukewarm strategy toward winning it.
For example, in a March 16 op-ed titled “Gay Dems excuse Obama’s failings for party invitations” in the LGBTQ D.C. newspaper theWashington Blade, Grenell challenged LGBTQ leaders for not taking a no-holds-barred stance with Obama:
“Last summer, President Obama reiterated his opposition to gay marriage in New York City one day before New York politicians passed marriage equality for their state. … The president and his political advisers surely must have calculated the con$equences[sic] for taking such a timely stand. And they must have decided there was more benefit to opposing gay marriage than supporting it. … There are Republicans and other Democrats more supportive of gay equality issues than Obama — and some just as tepid — so why are gay leaders putting all their trust into a man that isn’t performing?”
Hard-nosed social conservatives, like Fischer, are worried about Grenell’s public endorsement of same-sex marriage, the very anthesis of Romney’s platform and that of the Republican party. And with a right-wing organization like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) endorsing Romney while pursuing objectives like courting black churches in an effort to drive a wedge between LGBTQ voters and African-American voters, some anti-gay Republicans can perceive Grenell as a potential and future flip-flopper. For example, in The National Review, Matthew J. Franck wrote, “Suppose Barack Obama comes out — as Grenell wishes he would — in favor of same-sex marriage in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. How fast and how publicly will Richard Grenell decamp from Romney to Obama?”
While the Romney camp attempted to do damage control after Grenell’s resignation, it did nothing in terms of a public statement supporting its appointment of Grenell during the political dust-up. And during Grenell’s two weeks in the post, Grenell was neither publicly put out to comment on national security matters nor used on press conference calls regarding foreign policy.
It has always been clear that Romney is neither a friend nor an ally to the LGBTQ community. But it is also evident that Romney is neither a friend nor ally to those LGBTQ Republicans who would work on his behalf to get him elected.