For Anti-Gay Conservatives, Grenell Symbolized Romney’s Untrustworthiness

The Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin broke the news yesterday that Richard Grenell, the openly gay Romney campaign spokesperson on national security and foreign policy issues, has resigned “in the wake of a full-court press by anti-gay conservatives.” 

Rubin reported that Grenell’s misogynistic tweets, which he scrubbed from his Twitter account, were not the cause of his departure. It’s not yet clear what efforts, if any, the campaign made to keep him on.*

Last week, I noted that while a Log Cabin Republican told the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer that he was going to be left in the “dustbin of history,” the conservative movement writ large was not ready for openly gay public officials, and would continue to exert pressure on Republicans who hired them. Rubin’s report ruefully chronicles her fellow conservatives who are more concerned over Grenell’s support for marriage equality than his credentials on foreign policy and national security.

The Post’s Greg Sargent builds on Rubin’s reporting about how Grenell had been sidelined from the media, even though he was supposed to be a spokesperson for the campaign. That, of course, was a sign that the campaign, and Romney in particular, were made queasy by the pressure from anti-gay Republicans. 

Grenell, to be sure, was not a perfect spokesperson—but not because of his support for marriage equality and LGBT rights. As his tweets demonstrated, he did have what could charitably be called a tact or diplomacy problem. But that’s not why, by all accounts, he resigned. Bryan Fischer and Tony Perkins and the other complaining conservatives were not worried about those things, but rather, his support for LGBT rights, plain and simple.

But this was as much a conservative attack on Grenell as it was a warning shot fired at Romney himself. Anti-gay conservatives don’t trust his about-face on gay marriage, and they will continually test the sincerity of his flip-flop. As the National Review’s Matthew Franck maintained, “voters are not inclined, with some justice, to regard hiring decisions such as this as an indication of the seriousness of the candidate about such a subject.” In other words, this wasn’t about anti-gay conservatives not wanting a gay staffer on the campaign—it was about demonstrating the clout they still wield, and how their constituents still (even in this campaign supposedly about the economy and foreign policy) see gay marriage as a defining issue. They won this round: they showed that Romney will cower to their demands. 

UPDATE: BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins reports that the campaign is “furiously combatting the notion that the campaign pushed Grenell out because of his sexuality. Aides told BuzzFeed that as soon as they heard last week that Grenell was thinking of quitting, the campaign aggressively tried to convince him to stay, with six separate senior staffers — including Eric Fehrnstrom — placing calls to him.” Still, though, the campaign did not publicly take on Fischer any other anti-gay critics, and now Fischer is declaring victory.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email