The Romney campaign is denying that Richard Grenell -- the foreign policy spokesperson who quit Tuesday after just two weeks on the job -- felt pressured to resign because he was openly gay.
Romney advisor Dan Senor went on MSNBC Wednesday to say that presumed GOP presidential nominee and his team were not worried about backlash over his hiring by social conservatives.
Not at all, Senor said, as quoted by The Huffington Post. He was being pressured to stay on.
When the campaign learned that he was considering stepping down, the campaign went out of its way to try to persuade him to stay, Senor said. He was supposed to start this week, actually. So he hadn't officially started yet but he was supposed to start this week.
Grenell, who served four U.S. ambassadors under President George W. Bush, was the first openly gay spokesperson hired by the presumed Republican nominee -- a moment that was applauded as a milestone by LGBT activists and others. He had barely begun to get settled into his job before social conservatives slammed the Romney campaign for his appointment.
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Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, for one, claimed that Grenell's support of same-sex marriage would prove to be a conflict of interest when working for a Republican administration. On April 20, he tweeted: Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead.
The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin first obtained Grenell's resignation statement, in which he said 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.
While personal issues was interpreted by Rubin and much of the press to be his sexual orientation, Grenell also drew criticism for tweeting personal attacks against Callista Gingrich, Hillary Clinton and other prominent members of the media (for example, he once asked if Callista's hair snaps on and another time questioned how Gingrich's third wife stands there like she's wife #1), leading him to delete over 800 tweets upon is appointment. He apologized and defended that they meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
Christian Whiton, who worked in the Bush State Department and described Grenell as a friend, added even another layer when he told Politico Grenell was likely frustrated with how Romney was handling his foreign policy communications during a critical week that included a major speech by Vice President Joe Biden.
I gathered Ric was frustrated that Team Romney wouldn't aggressively engage Obama on foreign policy, Whiton reportedly said. Ric was kept from talking to the press as a spokesman typically would. They seem to have decided to concede foreign policy to Obama, and therefore didn't need an aggressive spokesman.
Is Grenell Resignation A Statement On Romney Campaign's Tolerance?
While Rubin reports that none of her sources told her the tweets were a factor in Grenell's resignation, the narrative that has taken center stage is whether or not the whole incident makes the Romney campaign cowardly or intolerant.
Shortly after Grenell called it quits, Bill Burton, a senior strategist and co-founder of the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, blasted the GOP over the incident in a tweet. This is the kind of bigoted, anti-gay extremists a Romney administration would find itself hostage to, he wrote.
Mitt Romney's record shows that he is against same-sex marriage and civil unions, although he has flip-flopped on Don't Ask Don't Tell (most recently said he was for the policy that prohibited gays from serving openly in the military). The message of anti-tolerance, however, is a narrative that his presidential campaign is not happy with.
Campaign manager Matt Rhoades gave the Post a statement Tuesday that they were disappointed Grenell decided to resign. On MSNBC Wednesday, Senor continued to emphasize that no one connected to the campaign applied any pressure on Grenell to leave.
The campaign went out of its way to persuade him to stay, everyone from the campaign manager, to senior foreign policy adviser to the campaign, outside advisers to the campaign, Rhoades said. It's a disappointment that the campaign wasn't able to persuade him to stay but ultimately this was a decision that he made. And we respect the decision even if we are disappointed by it.