By the time Grenell revealed last weekend 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, reports The Huff Post.
“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.
Grenell was hired specifically to assist Romney on foreign policy. He previously was George W. Bush’s spokesperson to the United Nations, and worked under conservative favorite, Ambassador John Bolton.
His selection raised talks initially after the comments from Fischer on Twitter came, in an April 23 blog post and during an April 24 appearance on CNN.
Then an April 24 blog post on the National Review’s website elicited a back and forth over whether conservatives should be concerned that Grenell would advocate for gay marriage inside a Romney White House.
On April 25, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council expressed dismay at Grenell’s hiring.
Romney campaign officials tried to persuade Grenell to stay on and enlisted former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, one more openly gay GOP figure, to appeal to him as well, revealed a source with knowledge of Mehlman’s involvement.
However, the former Romney’s spokesman thinks the campaign staffers could have done more to quiet conservative leaders and that they lacked the willingness or ability to publicly confront or privately persuade those leaders, claim sources familiar with his thinking.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, a group dedicated to promoting gay conservatives, agreed. “Those attacks would not have carried the weight that they did had there been a strong pushback from the campaign,” LaSalvia said in an interview.
But even LaSalvia expressed some concerns why Grenell felt compelled to quit. “Certainly Bryan Fischer and Tony Perkins were very loud publicly. There was also the National Review piece,” LaSalvia said. “But I just don’t know what was going on behind the scenes that would have elevated this to such an issue.”
“If you want to be a gay rights activist, there’s GOProud and [Human Rights Campaign] and a number of things that you can do. But if you want to try to elect Mitt Romney president, then get on board and do your job, which is to talk about foreign policy,” an GOP operative said. “He broke every rule of every book of the political staffers on a presidential campaign: It isn’t about you.”
The Romney campaign asked 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.
The candidate’s officials said Grenell had not been sent out to talk about foreign policy issues before this week because he was not scheduled to start until May 1. But that explanation did not make sense to some, including one former high-ranking Bush administration official.
“Why wasn’t Rick the spokesman in the last couple of days, when foreign policy was paramount?” former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer wondered. “That’s the piece I don’t understand.”
“I don’t know why he wasn’t the spokesman on foreign policy for the last several days. It’s something that nobody understands,” Fleischer added.