Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s openly gay advisor on foreign policy resigned Tuesday (May 1), just two weeks after the campaign announced his role.
According to the Washington Post, which broke the story, Richard Grenell “resigned in the wake of a full-court press by anti-gay conservatives.” But Grenell, in a statement to the Post, said only that his ability to “speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign.” Grenell’s statement also thanked Romney for his confidence in Grenell’s ability to serve the campaign on national security and foreign policy issues and for Romney’s “clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.”
The Post quoted Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades as saying the campaign is “disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons.”
“We wanted him to stay,” said Rhoades, “because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill.”
Most gay activists see Grenell as a victim of the Republican Party’s strong right-wing base.
R. Clarke Cooper, head of Log Cabin Repubicans, echoing Grenell’s statement, blamed Grenell’s departure on “hyper-partisan discussion of issues unrelated to” Grenell’s national security qualifications. Cooper said Grenell “was essentially hounded by the far right and far left.”
Stonewall Democrats’ national executive director Jerame Davis said Grenell was “mercilessly hounded by religious conservatives.” To Davis, Romney’s appointment of Grenell was never serious, but just a “crassly cynical political move by Romney to fool LGBT voters into believing he’s not as anti-gay as his statements would have you believe.”
Davis criticized Romney for “silently [letting] the bigoted wing of his party control his personnel choices.”
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese also criticized Romney for his silence.
“The fact that Grenell is gone so quickly after a right-wing uproar,” said Solmonese, “is a troubling harbinger of the kind of power that anti-gay forces would have in a Romney White House. ”
Jimmy LaSalvia, head of the national gay conservative group GOProud, said, “I still can’t believe that in 2012 there are still people like Bryan Fischer and Tony Perkins, who would rather keep a gay person from having a job on a presidential campaign than have Mitt Romney assemble the best foreign policy team possible,” said . “On a day when foreign affairs and national security are at the forefront, it’s too bad that Governor Romney doesn’t have the best spokesman possible speaking on his behalf.”
Bryan Fischer, a policy official with the American Family Association, criticized Grenell’s appointment, characterizing Grenell as a “gay activist” and suggesting he would be trying to promote a “homosexual agenda.” Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, noted that Grenell publicly criticized President Bush for opposing the U.S. endorsement of a pro-gay statement by the United Nations.
Another right-wing anti-gay activist, Gary Bauer, criticized the appointment of Grenell, saying that it showed unwillingness by the Romney campaign to reassure conservatives in the Republican Party.
“Conservative pro-family leaders,” said Bauer, in an April 25 email to supporters of his current organization, Campaign for Working Families, “are disappointed because Grenell has been an outspoken advocate of redefining normal marriage.” He noted that Grenell “once caused a controversy by trying to have his partner listed as his spouse when he worked at the U.N.” Grenell asked to have his partner listed, the same as the spouses of other U.S. delegation employees, in a United Nations directory.
But Bauer’s criticism of Grenell’s appointment was somewhat tempered by his acknowledgement that “homosexuals” worked in the administrations of President Reagan and the two Bush presidents.
And Grenell’s own cryptic explanation —citing “hyperpartisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign”—left room for uncertainty about what was really behind his abrupt resignation.
Grenell, 45, lives in Los Angeles and was due to start work at Romney’s national headquarters in Boston on Tuesday. Such a move would enable Grenell to marry his longtime partner, Matthew Lashey.
Personal issues were also a focus of early criticism of Grenell’s appointment, as media reports gave considerable attention to Grenell’s Twitter posts making unflattering observations about GOP presidential long-shot Newt Gingrich’s current wife, Callista, openly gay Pulitzer Prize winning commentator Jonathan Capehart, and MSNBC’s openly gay political commentator Rachel Maddow, among others. Those posts came to light just as the clamor was subsiding over a remark from openly gay Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen that Romney’s wife, Ann, had “never worked a day in her life.”
Grenell’s qualifications to serve as a national security and foreign policy advisor to Romney seemed unquestioned. Grenell served the administration of President George W. Bush, as a spokesman for the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He was also appointed by Ambassador John Danforth in 2004 to serve as an alternative representative of the United States to the U.N. Security Council. And he served numerous other prominent Republicans, including New York Governor George Pataki, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and San Diego Mayor Susan Golding.
The Romney campaign’s willingness to appoint an openly gay man to such a prominent position also seemed to indicate that the campaign was prepared to go after the one in four gay voters who tend to vote Republican. Grenell’s departure could make that task more difficult.