When there’s a situation as fluid as what’s going down in Beijing between the Obama administration and the Chinese government over blind attorney Chen Guangcheng, it’s best for those not directly involved to sit back and watch. This is especially so of those running to unseat the sitting president. But Mitt Romney just couldn’t hold his tongue.

“We’ve heard some disturbing things from across the world that suggest that, potentially, if the reports are true, some very troubling developments there,” Mr. Romney said, according to a report in the New York Times. “If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration.” Missing from that statement is what exactly what Romney would do and how he planned to deal with the fallout from said action.

Seeming to fight for Chen was a messy move for Romney. But what it lacked in long-term thinking it made up for in short-term benefit. For it shifted the day’s conversation away from Romney’s unwillingness to fight for Richard Grenell.

Grenell was supposed to be the national security and foreign policy spokesperson for the Romney presidential campaign. Grenell was a longtime spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and then an alternative representative to the Security Council under President George W. Bush; his credentials for the Romney job were indeed impeccable. He also is openly gay. And that didn’t sit too well with some vocal social conservatives such as Bryan Fischer.
After Grenell announced his resignation, the story moved quickly from the role of social conservatives in his departure to the inability or unwillingness of Romney to defend a qualified aide brought on to hone his foreign policy message against Obama. Romney had to have known about Grenell’s reputation for sharp elbows and a sharp tongue. He of course knew that Grenell is openly gay. He should have known that social conservatives were going to go after him. As Ruth Marcus writes, “Given the predictable, disgusting backlash to Grenell’s hiring, how could the campaign have no plan to deal with it other than shove Grenell into the background — the closet? — until the furor died down?” The absence of independence and leadership from Romney made it impossible for Grenell to stay.

Given his principles, Grenell should never have taken the job in the first place. But once there, Romney should have defended not only the man but his right to pick him.