Ric Grenell’s resignation from the Romney campaign is, like many personal issues, cloaked in some ambiguity. Whether he was “getting up to speed” (as some insiders said) as he integrated into the campaign before his official start date of May 1 or being kept out of sight to quell the firestorm from social conservatives depends on who is doing the talking. We do know that Grenell was performing some duties for the campaign before he announced his resignation. He was not, however, in front of cameras or speaking on the record.
What is clear is that the Romney campaign knew he was gay, hired him and tried to talk him into staying when Grenell decided he had become too much of a lightning rod. The small elbow to the ribs of the right in campaign manager Matt Rhoades’s statement, making clear Grenell was fully qualified to do the job, suggests the Romney camp was none too pleased that the anti-gay voices chased Grenell out.
What about those deleted tweets in which Grenell had commented on various women? One person close to the situation said that was a distraction, but the campaign felt it was a blip on the screen, a non-factor after the initial media fuss about it.
If there is a takeaway here, it is that some anti-gay voices wigged out when a gay man was hired as a spokesman for a conservative on foreign policy. This episode did not concern gay marriage. It did not concern Romney’s stance on gay rights (he hired Grenell, after all). It concerned whether the mere presence of an openly gay person in a Republican campaign is a bridge too far. Unfortunately, for some on the right it was, and they set out to make such a rumpus that Grenell felt he could not do his job. Grenell isn’t a one-issue voter, but they sure are.
Kevin Williamson at National Review hit the nail on the head when he chastised his colleague Matthew Franck who had been among the loudest anti-Grenell voices: “My congratulations to Matthew Franck et al. for having successfully chased Richard Grenell out of the Romney campaign, handing the Democrats a nice little example of Republicans’ elevating their sexual obsessions over foreign policy (for Pete’s sake). I do hope that Mr. Romney extends the appropriate gratitude for the manufactured controversy.”
But before the left gets all high and mighty on us, consider some commentators on the left who also made Grenell’s life miserable. How could he put “power above principle,” asked my colleague Jonathan Capehart about Grenell’s desire to work for a candidate who wouldn’t support gay marriage. (No one asks that question of gay Obama staffers who work for a president who also doesn’t support gay marriage.)
So some on the right can’t tolerate a gay man working on non-social issues for a potential Republican president, and some on the left can’t either. Both reject the simple formulation: Can he do the job? Both sides want the conservative political workplace to be gay-free.
Grenell didn’t want national security policy to be held hostage to sexual politics. You can understand that. You hope those who raised the fuss on the right and left would be ashamed. But they won’t be. They’ll claim another scalp. I hope they’re pleased with themselves.