When Grenell’s appointment was announced last month, most observers took it as a sign that Romney was starting to move to the center to win moderate and independent voters in November, a welcome change after a Republican primary process often dominated by religious-right candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.
But the shift to the middle, a smart and necessary political play for Romney, didn’t last long. Even though Grenell had previously served as a spokesman at the United Nations for President George W. Bush and then-Ambassador John R. Bolton, a darling of most conservatives, from the moment he was appointed to the Romney campaign, he was vilified for his sexual orientation — irrelevant, of course, to the policy area for which he was chosen.
Some of the most strident and vicious attacks came from Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, which is officially designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Fischer, who called the appointment of a gay spokesman a national security risk, has racked up a breathtaking record of anti-gay, anti-minority and anti-Muslim statements over the past few years, including calling gay people domestic terrorists and stating that the anti-Muslim views of Anders Breivik, the gunman who killed 77 people in Norway last year, were “accurate.”
Fischer and his ilk should be shunned by self-respecting religious-right organizations, but he is a regular speaker on the social conservative and “values voters” conference circuit. He has also hosted a variety of Republican presidential contenders on his radio show, including Santorum and Herman Cain. Fischer not only called on Romney to fire Grenell, he also issued a list of other demands that the candidate must meet to demonstrate his commitment to the “family values” crowd. Not surprisingly, when he learned of Grenell’s resignation, he called it a “huge win” for the religious right.
Unfortunately, the Romney campaign seems to have caved in to Fischer and his followers. Though Grenell was not fired, and after his departure Romney and campaign staffers have spoken highly of him, there was no strong public defense while he was under attack. This fits in well with Romney’s history of pandering to the religious right. He seems to think that a Republican with presidential aspirations must get people like Fischer on his side. Especially because, when governor of Massachusetts, Romney backed socially tolerant policies regarding gay rights, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a federal bill that would outlaw private-sector job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the eventual end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”