Mitt Romney’s new foreign policy spokesman, Richard Grenell, is causing a bit of a stir.
Over the weekend, media reports noted the newly-hired Grenell’s many inflammatory tweets offering very blunt takes on taboo political issues like Newt Gingrich’s multiple marriages, comparing MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to Justin Bieber, commenting on the appearance of various women including Hillary Clinton and Cindy McCain, and berating the media.
In addition, Grenell’s hire has drawn the ire of some in the social conservative movement because he is openly gay (though the resistance has yet to hit the mainstream of the social conservative movement in any significant way).
So just who is this newly relevant political hand?
Grenell is perhaps best known for being George W. Bush’s top spokesman at the United Nations, serving under Ambassadors John Negroponte, John Danforth, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad.
He has also served as a spokesman for former San Diego mayor Susan Golding, former New York governor George Pataki, then-congressmen Mark Sanford (later known as the “Appalachian Trail”-hiking governor of South Carolina ), and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.). He also worked for Gingrich and the George H.W. Bush reelection campaign in the early 1990s.
Grenell, as evidenced by the Twitter controversy, has earned a reputation as a polarizing figure in the world of the press.
The liberal Village Voice in 2003 detailed complaints about Grenell — anonymous ones, albeit — from the press covering the U.N. accusing him of being overbearing.
But even in that report, at least one journalist defended Grenell as a skilled communicator just doing his job.
“I recognize that he is a master of spin,” said Raghida Dergham, the U.N. correspondent for the Arab newspaper Al Hayat. “But I find him accessible, knowledgeable, and never condescending. We argue, but he never yells at me.”
In his story about Grenell’s Twitter scrub, the Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone quotes longtime Reuters reporter Irwin Arieff calling Grenell “the most dishonest and deceptive press person I ever worked with.”
Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer disagreed, urging caution in judging Grenell by his tweets and praised him as a sharp foreign policy mind. He told Calderone that Grenell “was a consummate professional in what he did at the United Nations.”
Bolton agreed. In a statement provided to The Fix by the Romney campaign, the former U.N. ambassador called his former aide “a thoroughly professional press spokesperson.”
“During his time at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., he showed discretion and good judgment, and did an excellent job representing our country during often very difficult circumstances,” Bolton said in the statement.
Grenell made in impact from a young age, and he was even the subject of a lengthy Washington Post Style section profile in 1995, shortly after the Republican Revolution and when he was just 28 years old.
A few interesting tidbits from that story:
Ric Grenell is the youngest of four children, three boys and a girl, who grew up in a Christian home. His parents worked as missionaries for the Church of God. Part of what’s wrong with America, says Grenell, is that people don’t care about what their mothers think — a yardstick against which he measures all of his moves. He describes himself as a “mama’s boy” — which may explain his affinity for strong women. His absolute favorite is morning talk show host and television personality Kathie Lee Gifford. He’d give anything to meet her. He’s also a fan of Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) and — surprise — Hillary Rodham Clinton, both of whom he has met. Grenell considers Arianna Huffington -- wife of failed California senatorial candidate and multimillionaire Michael Huffington -- a personal friend and mentor. “I love that woman,” says Grenell of his occasional dinner and movie partner.
Grenell comes from the blue-eyed, blond-haired, hard-working, all-American family. Picture perfect. When he was growing up in Michigan, everyone he knew was just like him. He hated it.
And this quote:
“I think what you are supposed to be when you are young is idealistic and passionate,” says Grenell. “Some people choose to be passionate about themselves, wanting to have sex all the time or achieve a high all the time. I’m passionate about politics.”
And about his hard-charging style:
Grenell has nothing but disdain for the burnouts and hangers-on, the people who trudge to work on the Hill day after day as though it were any old job in any old place and not the center of the U.S. government. There is no room for the cynical, for those who believe change is impossible. They should get out.
He also dislikes those who can’t handle the hard questions -- cuts in the budget, abortion. If you won’t toe the line, Grenell has a handy label for you. “Squish,” he says of Christine Todd Whitman, the pro-choice Republican governor of New Jersey. This is not a compliment.
He knows why he runs himself ragged. He started with political aspirations of his own, but after seeing the underbelly of political life, the hard work and pressure, he’s no longer sure. That’s not to say he is not ambitious. White House press secretary sounds appealing. He’s sure more chances lie ahead. Conservatism is the wave of the future, he says. On the phone with a good friend who is a Democrat, he jokes about the upcoming election and another friend’s job in the Clinton administration.