Ever since Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) nominated Bruce Harris to the state supreme court, the popular, argumentative chief executive has done everything he can to ensure that the openly gay African American lawyer gets confirmed. Judging by the opposition, Harris’s chances are slim. But Christie deserves high praise for standing by Harris.

Even though a committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association deemed Harris qualified for the high court, Democrats say they don’t like the Yale Law graduate because he lacks courtroom experience. Some Conservatives don’t like Harris because he’s gay. And some gay rights advocates are extremely troubled by Harris’s declaration that he would recuse himself from gay right cases that come before the court. But none of that has weakened Christie’s support for Harris.

In fact, Christie pushed back on the recusal accusations yesterday. Harris, he told reporters, only said he would recuse himself from same-sex marriage cases because he had taken a public position in support of the marriage-equality bill Christie vetoed in February.

I bring all this up because what Christie did for Harris stands in stark contrast to what Mitt Romney did for Richard Grenell. Or I should say, didn’t do. Grenell is a national security and foreign policy expert. He is a conservative. And he is openly gay. Romney made a bold move by appointing him to be his foreign affairs spokesperson. But when the far right started making noise, Grenell was put on lockdown. He resigned without ever receiving public support from the man he was hired to represent.

That was a leadership failure on Romney’s part. One that Christie refused to repeat, by standing resolutely and publicly with Harris. Perhaps Christie, as Romney’s vice presidential pick, could teach Romney a thing or two about leadership and protecting a chief executive’s right to make his own personnel decisions. Then, again, locking arms with Harris without apology very well be might the thing that scuttles those chances — in 2012.