In one of the first moves depicting a shift to a general election footing, Mitt Romney’s campaign announced last week the hiring of Richard A. Grenell as a national security and foreign policy adviser. This week, the campaign and Grenell were dealing with backlash from the left and right.
Grenell, who spent seven years at the United Nations heading the communications department for the U.S. mission, has had to scrub snarky tweets aimed at women — particularly Democrats and liberals — and the media, while the Romney campaign has had to fend off criticism from social conservatives who object to Grenell’s appointment because he is gay.
In one entry removed from his Twitter account, Grenell wrote of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: “Hillary is starting to look liek Madeline Albright.”
Of MSNBC’s liberal-leaning Rachel Maddow, he wrote that she should “take a breath and put on a necklace.”
The snark was not limited to the political opposition. Grenell, a former spokesman for Newt Gingrich, said of Gingrich’s third wife, Callista, that he wondered whether her “hair snaps on” and that she “stands there like she is wife #1” at political events.
The tweets were in line with Grenell’s reputation as a quick-witted and sometimes confrontational spokesman, who would add a different component to the Romney operation.
Some social conservatives, whom Romney has to yet fully consolidate, have criticized the appointment because Grenell, who served four U.S. ambassadors after President George W. Bush named him to the post in 2001, is openly gay.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, took issue with Grenell over his criticism of the Bush administration’s failure to sign a December 2008 U.N. resolution that called for decriminalizing homosexuality across the globe.
While at the United Nations, Grenell fought unsuccessfully to have his partner, Matt Lashey, listed among the spouses in the United Nations’s Blue Book, a personnel directory.
“It’s concerning that you would have somebody tapped to be potentially in an administration that would continue the policies that we’re seeing in the Obama administration,” Perkins said.
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association shared his disappointment with the Grenell pick on Twitter: “Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead.”
Grenell, who is based in Los Angeles where he is a partner at a public relations firm, is well-known in Washington circles, having served on former House speaker Gingrich’s transition team in 1994.
In a 1995 Washington Post article, Grenell, who was the press secretary for then-congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, was profiled as the young, fresh face of the Republican revolution.
“It was such a validation of ‘it’s great to be a Republican,’ ” Grenell said at the time.
Grenell and his supporters have since responded to the recent attacks, saying that much of what he said was meant as a joke.
The 1995 Post piece, in which Grenell recounts his love for strong women, including Clinton and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who remains a friend, details a similarly snarky incident.
Grenell had an uneasy relationship with some reporters, who found him difficult to deal with, his supporters said, but it is that very aggressiveness with the press and knowledge of policy that makes him qualified to be Romney’s top flack on foreign policy.
“If he saw a reporter inaccurately characterize U.S. positions, he would take them to task, but in terms of half answers, half truths, that wasn’t the case,” said Mark Groombridge, who was a top aide for John R. Bolton, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and worked closely with Grenell. “But what reporter is ever satisfied with a spokesman? That’s true no matter the party. Anytime you are dealing with a spokesman, I have heard these same frustrations.”
Groombridge said Grenell’s sexual orientation is a “nonissue.”
In a statement from the Romney campaign, Bolton 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.