Grenell Resignation Tied To Social Conservative Flap Over His Homosexuality

Based on the postmortems, it certainly seems like the Romney campaign threw Richard Grenell under the bus.

Jon Ward at The Huffington Post is out with a story tonight that seems to confirm that it was the criticism by social conservatives over the hiring of an openly gay man by the Romney campaign, and more specifically the Romney campaign’s failure to defend their new spokesperson, that led to to his resignation:

WASHINGTON — Former Romney spokesman Richard Grenell left the campaign because he felt like his reputation was being destroyed by criticism and he was unable to defend himself, according to sources who have spoken with Grenell and understand his thinking.

But by the time Grenell gave notice last weekend of his intention to quit, the Romney campaign viewed any controversy about his hiring as having largely evaporated, and Romney aides were surprised when they learned of Grenell’s wish to resign.

“In the scale of things, we didn’t view it as a major story and in fact thought it had blown over,” a source close to the Romney campaign said of the controversy around Grenell.

“The main source of the criticism was from a person on the far right that Romney had taken on before,” the Romney source said.

The “far right” figure is Bryan Fischer, with the American Family Association, whom Romney had condemned in October for “poisonous language.” (Romney’s criticism at that time was not related to any Fischer comments about sexual orientation, however, but resulted from Fischer’s attacks on Mormonism, Romney’s faith.)

As I noted yesterday, Fischer was only the first social conservative activist to speak out against Grenell’s hiring. At the same time, the fact that these guys spoke out in and of itself doesn’t seem like such a big deal that it would cause Grenell to resign given the fact that everyone knew he was gay and he had previously worked for John Bolton of all people, something that James Joyner took note of in an update to my post yesterday. As Ward goes on to note, however, the Romney campaign’s reticence to upset social conservatives who spent the vast majority of the primary campaign supporting other candidates almost precisely because they weren’t Mitt Romney seemed to cause them to be nearly completely silent in the face of attacks of what had been a major hire by the campaign, and to hold Grenell back from defending himself:

Boston headquarters did not object to Grenell’s sexual orientation, as Romney campaign officials have stated and as Grenell has privately told associates. But the campaign’s delicate handling of the pushback — providing statements upon request rather than boldly sending Grenell defenses far and wide — does indicate some nervousness about the risk of alienating Christian conservatives uncomfortable with homosexuality and strongly opposed to gay marriage.

Because of his Mormon faith and some moderate positions on social issues, Romney has never been popular with the conservative evangelical base of the Republican Party. Many conservatives say they will still vote for Romney because they so strongly oppose President Barack Obama. But this amounts to a fragile alliance between Romney and these voters.

So the Romney campaign had to tread carefully in defending its hiring of a man who was not only openly gay but who also had agitated publicly for Obama to reverse his opposition to gay marriage.


[T]hose who have talked to Grenell said he felt “boxed in” because he was not able to publicly defend himself, from critics on the right as well as those on the left who were slamming him for his habit of making intemperate comments on Twitter. After taking the Romney job, Grenell erased many of his controversial tweets one by one. Then he simply erased all his tweets before a certain point in time. That only brought more attention to the matter, and Grenell issued an apology.

The Romney campaign told Grenell to “be quiet and not to speak up until it went away,” said a source familiar with the matter, referring to criticism of his sexual orientation. A source close to the Romney campaign said Grenell was asked to lay low only on the issue of his tweets about Callista Gingrich and First Lady Michele Obama, for which he, in fact, had already apologized.

The decision to compartmentalize Grenell was so complete that he wasn’t even allowed to speak about foreign policy, the subject area that he had been hired to cover for the campaign. As Ward describes it:

Last week Grenell was “instructed to shut up” before a foreign policy conference call with reporters, eroding his standing with journalists on the beat, Andrew Sullivan reported and HuffPost confirmed.

Granted, Grenell was not officially supposed to start his job until yesterday, but when they’re including him on conference calls and not allowing him to speak, one has to wonder exactly what they’re thinking

I’m not quite sure what the Romney campaign was thinking here, but it strikes me that they certainly didn’t handle this well from the start. Grenell’s homosexuality was no secret, so it’s puzzling to say the least that the campaign wouldn’t push back against the nonsense coming from people like Fischer, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and others after they hired him. As far as the controversy over his Tweets was concerned, Grenell had already apologized for that and one assumes that the campaign was already aware of all that as part of the initial vetting process (if they weren’t then one has to wonder about the vetting process). Their silence leaves the impression that they were more concerned with not upsetting social conservatives than with defending one of their one staffers and that certainly seems to be the impression it created in Grenell’s mind. If that’s the case, then why hire him in the first place?

At the very least, one cannot classify the way the campaign behaved in this incident as a profile in courage. And, of course, now that the social conservatives know that they can get what they want from the Romney camp simply by complaining loud enough one has to wonder what else they’re going to ask for.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Gender Issues, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. It means Romney cannot be trusted to make his own decisions. When presented with opposition, he will not fight for what he believes is right. He will make a decision based on who is mounting the most pressure.

  2. Greg V. says:

    Disgraceful and cowardly behavior for a man who seeks the White House. He’ll recieve no help from me.

  3. Doubter4444 says:

    This is not surprising – and again, the real story is not even really about his being gay.
    It’s about the reaction the Romney camp has when pushed hard by an interest group.
    That, if the the Obama camp is smart, and they are, is going to be the issue – and they will hammer it hard.

    I think this is a debacle for Romney, and if indicative of the campaign, he’s going down in flames – there is, really, no good way to spin this.

  4. Janis Gore says:

    I still think that part of this is making nice with the Gingriches. Callista Gingrich does not look like the soul of forgiveness.

    The two campaigns have been talking to each other the past two weeks regarding ongoing support from Gingrich and retiring his debt. And Grennell was pointed in his tweets about the current Mrs. Gingrich.

    That’s not to deny that the so-cons were in high dudgeon.

    Two or three things together …

  5. michael reynolds says:

    You know, George W. Bush may have been an idiot but he was twice the man this Romney creature is.

    Wow. Get out your graph paper and plot for integrity from Reagan to George HW Bush to Bush the younger to this dishonest poltroon.

  6. Hey Norm says:

    People like Fischer, Perkins, and Bauer run the social wing of the Republican party, while Norquist runs the fiscal wing.
    Romney will only be a puppet.

  7. bluepen9uin says:

    I have to think that independents will view this as a negative. Lack of leadership from Mitt and flip/flopping if not just plan rolling over to extreme fringes.

  8. Doubter4444 says:

    @Hey Norm:
    They’ve already said that explicitly for heaven’s sake!
    It’s got to be immensely humiliating for Romney to know that he’ll be “only a pen” to sign the agenda of the Norquist/tea party – and it gives you a glimpse into the real way he’ll have to govern, if he wins.
    It’s pretty damning.

  9. Janis Gore says:

    @bluepen9uin: Oh, yeah. Not to mention that he hired a neo-con as a foreign policy spokesman in the first place.

  10. Peterh says:

    I nominate the above headline as the biggest friggin’ DUH thus far this year……but it’s still early…..

  11. Drew says:

    I see the usual lightweight invective is spewing. One wonders what the very same commenters have to say about Obama and his special green knee pads, while Americans lose their jobs due to bizarre energy policy and we also remain reliant on Middle East oil and the inevitable next middle eastern blood bath.

    We can talk about homosexuality, or we can talk about life, death and economic prosperity.

    Everything I know about the guy says he was an excellent choice. I’m lead to believe by a person who would be in a position to know that the real story is a bit different than what is being publicly portrayed. Surprise. In any event, I agree a more strident defense was in order. But this appears to have been more a self directed decision than is convenient for the chattering class to admit.

    In any event, spare me the faux outrage, commenters. Your hero is leading us down a horrible path. Get a clue.

  12. Moderate Mom says:

    Is Romney taking bus driving lessons from the Obama campaign?

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Yes, I totally believe you have “inside information.”

    Pathetic, Drew. Your boy is a spineless, flip-flopping, dishonest coward. But by all means, embrace him. What does it matter if he’s a creep so long as he gives you a an extra dollar?

  14. legion says:

    There are a number of ways this could have happened behind the scenes, and not a one of them reflects well on Romney.
    First, Grenell was publicly gay. If Romney’s campaign didn’t notice that when they brought him on, every single one of them needs to be fired. That’s just basic vetting 101 there.
    Second, if they knew he was gay, they had to have known there was going to be pushback from the religious SoCons in the base. How could they possibly be that unaware of the single most basic demographic in the GOP today?
    Third, when the storm hit, whether they were surprised or not, they just tried to hide him – as though the noise level from the SoCon crowd would somehow die down. Do they not realize that that’s the part of the GOP that already likes Mitt the least? How could they have possibly imagined that the furor over having an out homosexual in an incredibly public spokseman role would _ever_ just “die down”?
    Fourth, and most damningly, to muzzle Grenell for two weeks and then just cut him loose, without a single public statement, from the candidate or anyone else, even attempting to defend him. That is the final indictment of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.Every single person, from Romney on down, has shown a level of gutless cowardice that surprises even me. I’m pretty much swearing off even pretending to be polite to _anyone_ who votes Republican from now on. Even if you’re a frothing bigot who just despises gays; even if you’re a rock-ribbed neocon who would rather die than vote Dem; how could you possibly support someone so completely…. nonexistent?!?

  15. LC says:

    It’s a beltway issue. Won’t affect any voters in Nov. Pundits will have forgotten it by next week. But I agree that Romney either failed to vet the guy – a beltway obsession – or proved again that he hasn’t much character.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    The essential thing to remember about the Money! wing of the GOP is this: there is no one they won’t sell out, no principle they won’t abandon, for a few extra dollars. You can buy them for a 1% income tax reduction.

    By contrast the Jesus! and Bombs! wing of the party actually have some integrity. They’re idiots, but they aren’t whores.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    …while Americans lose their jobs due to bizarre energy policy and we also remain reliant on Middle East oil and the inevitable next middle eastern blood bath.

    Oh my, talk about lightweight invective…who’s supplying you with your lines, Sarah Palin’s ghost writer?

    …the real story is a bit different than what is being publicly portrayed.

    There’s nothing stopping Mitt Romney from stepping forward and revealing the “real story”, is there? Oh wait, the odious Bryan Fischer is currently twisting the knobs on the Etch-A-Sketch…who will be twisting the knobs next…

    Is Romney taking bus driving lessons from the Obama campaign?

    Ahh, now that’s an interesting point…Jeremiah Wright was offensive to many people for the things that he said…Richard Grenell is offensive to some people simply for what he is…

  18. anjin-san says:

    life, death and economic prosperity.

    And how many decades do we have to go back to find that under a Republican President? Fire up the wayback machine…

  19. Davebo says:

    I’m lead to believe by a person who would be in a position to know that the real story is a bit different

    Drew, having seen so many of your comments here I have no doubt you are easily lead to believe just about anything.

  20. swearyanthony says:

    Goodness me. If Romney can’t even stand up to the AFA how weak is his standing with the lunatic right? What next, refusing to criticise Westboro?

  21. superdestroyer says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Since Romeny will never be president and is basically irrelevant, who cares if Romney is a puppet. The real question is didn’t his advisers discuss putting a homosexual activist into a position of power to begin with.

    The real issue is that Romney does not seem to understand the medium and long term consequences of his decisions and that Romney’s policy and political adivisers are tone deaf.

  22. jukeboxgrad says:

    This story is important because it tells us two important things about Mitt.

    The first thing it tells us is that Mitt is spineless. Nuts like Fischer have the ability to intimidate him, which means we can count on Mitt to spend his entire presidency being intimidated.

    The second thing it tells us is that Mitt is a mediocre manager. Why hire Grenell if you’re not willing to stand up for him? This entire mess was highly foreseeable and avoidable, but Mitt stumbled into it anyway, and then handled it poorly.

    This is like the story of Seamus, where Mitt’s poor judgment created a foreseeable, avoidable crisis, and then he showed further poor judgment in his response to that crisis.

    Conventional wisdom has already grasped that Mitt is spineless, but it still assumes (for no particularly good reason) that he’s a good manager. The Grenell story will help open some eyes, in this regard.

  23. al-Ameda says:


    We can talk about homosexuality, or we can talk about life, death and economic prosperity.

    Maybe I can help you here – the firing of Richard Grenell was not about “life, death and economic prosperity,” it apparently was about homosexuality.

    You’re right, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Obama bailed out GM and in so doing saved hundred of thousands of auto industry jobs, while at the same time Romney was advocating bankruptcy in order to cut costs, and reduce wages and benefits for thousands of American workers.

  24. mantis says:

    Since Romeny will never be president and is basically irrelevant, who cares if Romney is a puppet.

    Is it ok with you if we go ahead and hold an election anyway?