Mitt Romney addressed the controversy over a departed gay staffer Friday, and it boiled down to this: more mush from the wimp, to quote the Boston Globe’s accidentally published editorial headline about Jimmy Carter.
Appearing on “Fox and Friends,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said, “We select people not based upon their ethnicity or their sexual preference or their gender, but upon their capability. He was a capable individual. We’re sorry to have him go and actually a whole series of the senior people on my team and my supporters called him and encouraged him to stay. But he expressed a desire to move on and I wish him the very best.”
Oh well, that settles it.
For one thing — and I’ve been schooled on this myself — as nice as it is that the campaign says it doesn’t discriminate in hiring, the phrase sexual preference itself is problematic. Unless Romney was trying to convey that he believes homosexuality is a mere matter of individual choice, like maybe Cadillac versus Lexus.
More troubling, as a previous Republican nominee, Bob Dole, liked to say about rival Bill Clinton during the 1996 campaign, where’s the outrage? “Sorry to have him go?” The guy whose peanut butter got in your chocolate sounds more distressed. Romney said not one word about the homophobic comments from some social conservatives that led to the departure of foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell. And if the candidate really wanted Grenell to stay, perhaps he could have called him personally?
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom came off as a profile in courage in comparison to his boss. Appearing on MSNBC’s ‘Daily Rundown,” Fehrnstrom offered, "I will say that of course there were voices of intolerance that expressed themselves during this debate — that was unfortunate. "
Fehrnstrom claimed that Romney “has a record of taking on intolerant voices within his own party.” He cited Romney’s remarks last fall at the conservative Values Voters Summit, where, Fehrnstrom said “he denounced some of the poisonous language that is being used by some of the same people who had criticized Ric Grenell’s appointment.”
This would be more convincing if (a) Romney had identified these voices (hint: Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association) by name and (b) if Romney had expressed any outrage — even a teensy, weensy bit — about the attack on Grenell.
But he didn’t, which suggests that Fischer had it just right when he boasted, in the wake of Grenell’s departure, that social conservatives had scored a “huge win.” When Fischer and I agree that the episode makes Romney look weak, you know he’s got a problem.
More from Ruth Marcus on Richard Grenell: Romney wimps out