DOING his best to shore up his credentials with the real severely conservatives that may still be sitting on the fence, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has performed another foldo grande, capitulating to those religious-right conservatives and walking away from his own campaign’s appointment of Richard Grenell, for all of two weeks the Romney foreign policy adviser, and the campaign’s first openly gay spokesman.
It’s the latest statement-by-silence from the presumptive Republican nominee, someone who you might not want for a foxhole partner in battle. It's the latest evidence that, when standing on moral principles is called for, time and again Romney has more often than not displayed the ethical spine of an invertebrate.
The Grenell episode came to light last week, when reports in The New York Times and by Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast said that Romney campaign officials had told Grenell to stay silent during a call about foreign policy — his whole reason for being with the campaign in the first place. This despite the fact that Grenell helped set up the call. “It’s not that the campaign cared whether Ric Grenell was gay,” a Republican adviser told The New York Times. “They believed this was a nonissue. But they didn’t want to confront the religious right.”
statement published by The Washington Post.
Jennifer Rubin of The Post understood the degree to which Grenell's authority was undermined: “During the two weeks after Grenell’s hiring was announced the Romney campaign did not put Grenell out to comment on national security matters and did not use him on a press foreign policy conference call. Despite the controversy in new media and in conservative circles, there was no public statement of support for Grenell by the campaign and no supportive social conservatives were enlisted to calm the waters.”
Romney, of course, did the expected dance, saying the same thing a manager or a CEO says when someone in the company (“the team”) is suddenly absented — making with the praise & sorrow noises, after the fact. “We wanted him to stay with our team,” Romney said in a Friday interview with Gretchen Carlson on Fox News. “He’s a very accomplished spokesperson, and we select people not based upon their ethnicity or their sexual preference or their gender but upon their capability,” Romney said. “He expressed a desire to move on and I wish him the very best.”
It apparently never occurred to the former Massachusetts governor to refuse to accept the resignation, to take a stand that would have reinforced a public perception of Romney as a man of principle, and sent a signal to the broader electorate he needs now and in the fall that those principles weren’t negotiable. Instead, Romney reacted as though the Grenell matter was just another hurdle on the way to his latest acquisition, just another name to be replaced in the org chart on the PowerPoint.
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IT’S NOT the first time. On Thursday’s “The War Room” on Current TV, Jennifer Granholm itemized some of Romney’s previous acquiescences with the mob. When Romney campaigned in Wisconsin, at the same time a Planned Parenthood clinic in Grand Chute, Wisc., was bombed on April 1, he said nothing.
During the debate season, at a Sept. 22 presidential debate in Orlando, Fla., a gay soldier, Army Capt. Stephen Hill, was booed by the people in the hall after he self-identified as gay and asked a question about tolerance in the post-DADT military. Romney’s response? Crickets. Not a mumblin’ word of objection. No defense of Hill on the basis of his military status, no willingness to stand up for what’s right. Nothing.
What’s so pointedly curious about this is its inconsistency. Romney’s shown in the past that he’s capable of doing the right thing in a full-throated way, regardless of the consequences.
“Our values ennoble the citizen and strengthen the nation. We should remember that decency and civility are values too,” he said. “One of the speakers who will follow me today, has crossed that line, I think. Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It’s never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind.”
Fast forward the Etch A Sketch to last Tuesday. Which of these Mitts is not like the other? This latest indicator of situational convictions feeds into a pattern about Romney: passive-aggressively blowing with the wind, playing to the audience or the mob, shapeshifting like Woody Allen’s Zelig, being the “serial windsock” James Carville said he was months ago on CNN.
AS FAR as the philosophical integrity of Romney’s campaign, its ability to send a message of his independence, his intention to stand up for something bigger than he and his money are, Romney’s cave on Grenell also points to a vacancy of courage that could be internally destructive.
Ron Reagan, writer, political analyst and someone in a position to know politics from the inside, said as much on MSNBC on Thursday. “He missed an opportunity and he gave himself a longer-term problem,” he told Chris Matthews. “This was a chance for him to shake up the Etch A Sketch, for him to say to the people he’s been pandering to for the last few months, ‘I’ve got a line I won’t cross’ ...
“In not doing that, he gave himself a long-term problem. These people are now emboldened. They’ve seen that they can now dictate who he has on his staff, and they’re going to be making more numerous, more onerous demands as the convention approaches.”
Andrew Sullivan, writing Wednesday in The Daily Beast, understands this, too:
“The Romneyites are correct when they say they tried to talk him out of it. But they kept and keep their views quiet. The gay-inclusive elements in the elites simply do not have the balls to tackle the religious right. And this is particularly true of Romney, as this case now proves. The Christianists gave Bush a pass on social issues because of his born-again Christianity. They trust Mormon Romney not an inch. And this week demonstrates without any doubt that Romney will therefore not be able to deviate from their wishes an iota. He has no room to maneuver.”
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He could have stepped up to the plate. Instead, the man who really likes firing people relishes a new role, as the candidate who really likes not having to fire people in order to get them to go away — by effectively letting the reliable flamethrowers on the far right do it for him.
That willingness to outsource the very core of his campaign’s ethical essence is at the heart of what’s deeply wrong with the Romney bid for the presidency. And it suggests what deeply wrong things we could expect from him if he ever made it to the presidency.
Image credits: Romney: Fox News. Grenell: Stephen Hilger, Bloomberg News. Blog title borrowed from the title of an unpublished novel by Hunter S. Thompson. And he'd approve.