NYT: Romney campaign overlooked Grenell's controversial Twitter postings when they vetted him

I’ve been wondering for two days why they’d hire him and then immediately tell him to lie low when they already knew that he was gay and a bit of a troll on Twitter. Mystery solved: They didn’t know he was a bit of a troll on Twitter. Which, for a campaign that “closely monitors” political tweets for purposes of rapid response, is simply bizarre.

“[B]efore he left the Romney headquarters [after his job interview], he felt compelled to say that he is gay. “It could be an issue,” he volunteered.

“It’s not an issue for us,” Mr. Fehrnstrom replied firmly.

The campaign called around to Mr. Grenell’s colleagues, seeking references, but as the warm reviews flowed in, a campaign known for its no-stone-unturned meticulousness overlooked his electronic footprints: namely, dozens of cutting Twitter postings. One swipe at Newt Gingrich’s weight, for example, went like this: “I wonder if newt has investments in Lipitor.”…

As the critiques from conservatives [over his orientation] intensified, Mr. Grenell pressed senior aides to allow him to speak about national security issues, arguing that the best way to soothe the ire over his appointment would be to let him do his job: defend his boss and take swipes at President Obama.

But Mr. Romney’s advisers balked at the idea of his taking a public role, saying that the best way to get beyond the controversy was for Mr. Grenell to lower his profile until it blew over. A big worry: that reporters would ask Mr. Grenell about his Twitter feed or sexuality, turning him rather than Mr. Romney’s foreign policy into the story.

Team Mitt wanted to deal with the controversy by keeping him quiet until people got bored with it and Grenell wanted to deal with it by changing the subject with a talking-points offensive about foreign policy. Sounds like he was insulted by the campaign’s approach and chose to bow out instead — even though, per the Times, no fewer than six top Romney officials personally asked him to stay, including Fehrnstrom and campaign manager Matt Rhoades. One advisor tells the Times that for the campaign Grenell’s orientation “was a nonissue. But they didn’t want to confront the religious right.” But … if they were unwilling to confront the religious right, why did they (a) hire Grenell to begin with, (b) beg him to stay on, and (c) repeatedly state their respect for him after he resigned? Obviously they planned to use him as a spokesman soon, just not as soon as Grenell would have liked. I’m not defending their decision to muzzle him at the beginning, mind you — I think Grenell’s approach on how to deal with the criticism was much smarter — but the media keeps trying to fit this easily into a cookie-cutter “Romney bows to anti-gay critics of Grenell” narrative and it’s not that simple. A fairer criticism is that the campaign simply should have showed more nerve up front and let Grenell speak, especially considering that not all of his critics were actually demanding that he be fired. HuffPo:

Gary Bauer, the founder of American Values, became the most serious political figure on the Christian right to publicly criticize Grenell’s hiring. Bauer wrote in a letter to supporters that he worried that Grenell’s hiring might signal some support by Romney for gay marriage. But he added, “We should not exaggerate this. Homosexuals were part of the Reagan Administration and the Bush Administrations. Our concern is policy.”

In a Wednesday interview with HuffPost, Bauer said, “I never called for [Grenell] to be replaced and I think the most important thing here is the policies.”…

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.

I’m not sure it’s a cataclysmic setback for gays when the Republican nominee hires an openly gay spokesman who later resigns and even a top social conservative feels obliged to say, essentially, “Hey, gays have worked for the GOP forever. No need to go running off.” Note that last bit about the Callista and Michelle tweets, though. It’s hard to believe that those were the only things the campaign was worried about but it’s easy to believe that they were legitimately worried about them once they found out. Romney’s trying to unify the party right now, and having pissy comments about Gingrich’s wife from his new foreign-policy spokesman circulating in the media would have been unhelpful to that effort. Maybe they feared that if they put Grenell out there right now while the media was still focused on it, the story might blow up so big that Newt would feel obliged to withhold an endorsement or to hit back hard rhetorically. Mitt doesn’t want hard feelings now among any constituency, even one that only managed to win two states. So their concern about the tweets was legit, I think, even if it wasn’t the foremost controversy surrounding Grenell.

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