Mitt Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom responded to the resignation of the campaign’s openly gay foreign policy spokesperson Richard Grenell during an appearance on CNN Wednesday night, but failed to harshly criticize conservative right wing activists who had derided the aide as a “homosexual activist” and may have hounded him out of his position.
Instead, in a response that closely resembled the GOP’s reaction to Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” controversy, Fehrnstrom found false equivalency between “voices of intolerance” in both political parties and fell short of crisply defending gay Republicans from the claim that they’ll impose a “homosexual agenda” that is contrary to “family values”:
ERIN BURNETT (CNN HOST): He said, “my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyperpartisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign.” Obviously it sounds there, reading between the lines, that the focus on his personal decisions, on perhaps his sexuality, was why he chose to go. Maybe not because it was happening in your campaign, but it was happening by others in the Republican party?
FEHRNSTROM: Yeah, and that’s disappointing. Wherever there are voices of intolerance within the party or the Democratic party for that matter, it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from, it’s disappointing. And the governor has taken the opportunity in the past to denounce those voices of intolerance…. [W]e do not take into consideration non-factors like race or ethnicity or sexual orientation. We look for the best possible people to do the job.
Romney failure to take the opportunity to denounce social conservative critics in the aftermath of Grenell’s appointment and his decision to keep the spokesperson under wraps during the anniversary of the Bin Laden capture, likely contributed to his decision to resign. As the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reported, Grenell was upset that there was no public statement of support for him “by the campaign and no supportive social conservatives were enlisted to calm the waters.” An aide confirmed the campaign’s resistance to engage with conservatives to the New York Times. “It’s not that the campaign cared whether Ric Grenell was gay,” one Republican adviser said. “They believed this was a nonissue. But they didn’t want to confront the religious right.”
That silence also allowed social conservatives to take a victory lap following the resignation. The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer — who had led the charge against Grenell’s appointment, attacking him for being a “homosexual activist” whose behavior is “offensive to God” — declared a “huge win” and noted, “There is no way in the world that Mitt Romney is going to put a homosexual activist in any position of importance in his campaign.”