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Posts for May, 2012

Fear the Fischer: AFA’s Spokesman Calls Romney To Heel Again

A commentary.

Jim Burroway

May 4th, 2012

On April 26, the very day when Gov. Mitt Romney’s openly gay foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell was muzzled during an important foreign policy conference call with reporters, American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer told his national radio audience that if Romney wants to win in November, “you had better start listening to me.” According to Republican insiders speaking to reporters at several news outlets, it looks like that’s more or less what the Romney campaign was doing. And so on Tuesday when news of Grenell’s resignation broke, Fischer made a victorious prediction:

And here’s what’s important. This is why it’s important that I take Gov. Romney on, that we as a pro-family movement take Gov. Romney on, is I will flat-out guarantee you he is not going to make this mistake again. 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.

Today, Bryan Fischer, whose campaign to force Grenell off of Romney’s campaign resulted in that campaign stuffing Grenell in a different sort of closet, is not just claiming credit for Grenell’s departure. He is now extending that credit to the Romney campaign itself:

Richard Grenell, the homosexual marriage crusader Mitt Romney hired to be his foreign policy spokesman, is gone because Romney wanted him gone. Romney’s camp said not a single solitary word in his defense when the issue of his gay activism was raised.

They slapped duct tape on his mouth to keep him from saying a word, even on a conference call he himself organized (some “spokesman,” eh?), then remained studiously silent until he got the message and fell on his sword.

Whatever anyone may think of Fischer, his recounting is events does seem to match up with what many others within the Republican party are saying privately. Romney’s mistake is that he thinks that he can wait out the likes of Bryan Fischer, which anyone with a passing familiarity with anti-gay activists knows is astoundingly naive. And as if that point needed any proof, Fischer is again furious over Romney’s milquetoast attempt at defending Grenell on Fox News earlier this morning, which Fischer calls a “tripple Etch-A-Sketch moment”:

1. Throw conservatives under the bus by hiring Grenell as a shout-out to the homosexual lobby.

2. Throw Grenell under the bus when supporters of natural marriage complain.

3. Then throw conservatives under the bus again to give another shout-out to the homosexual lobby.

You can get whiplash trying to stay up with this guy.

Fischer is calling Romney to heel again, this time demanding that Romney publicly answers whether he agrees with the Mormon church’s position that homosexuality is sinful. Clearly Fischer is not going to allow one inch of wiggle room for Romney’s half-hearted stab at pivoting to the middle. And if this episode is any indication, Romney’s not going to struggle very hard. Romney’s whole campaign has been an exercise in ceding power to the most radical voices of his party. Fischer brags that he can effectively call the shots on who the Romney campaign can hire, and so far his boast appears to be correct. And Fischer’s still not satisfied.

And by the way, Romney is scheduled to speek at Liberty University a week from tomorrow. Which means that he has at least another whole week of cowering to the radical right.

Romney Defends Gay Former Staffer, Barely

Jim Burroway

May 4th, 2012

Gov. Mitt Romney, presumptive Republican presidential nominee, appeared on Fox News this morning to defend Richard Grenell — days after Grenell resigned from Romney’s campaign because Romney declined to defend him when he was still part of the campaign. Romney told Fox News:

We select people not based upon their ethnicity or their sexual preference or their gender. But upon their capability. He was a capable individual. We’re sorry to have him go and actually a whole series of the senior people on my team and my supporters called him and encouraged him to stay. But he expressed a desire to move on and I wish him the very best.

Romney now is trying to have it both ways: He plays the nice guy who’s sorry to see a gay staffer leave, but he also lets himself off the hook over the reasons why that gay staffer left. And of course, Fox News wouldn’t dare press him on that. This leaves Bryan Fischer still effectively in charge of Romney’s personnel decisions. Romney’s done nothing to change that dynamic.

Did Grenell Jump or Was He Pushed?

This post has been updated with more information from the New York Times and Talking Points Memo

Jim Burroway

May 3rd, 2012

Or did he just simply let go?

On April 19 when Gov. Mitt Romney named Richard Grenell, a longtime GOP communications strategist as his national security and foreign policy spokesman, conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan hailed the announcement as “a real outreach to gay Republicans” while Karen Ocamb said is marks “the day Romney pivots to appeal to mainstream voters for the general election.”

But if that was a pivot, it ended Tuesday when Grenell resigned from the campaign. His very brief announcement hinted at why he left such a high-profile post in a national presidential campaign: “My ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign.”

What “hyper-partisan” discussions was he referring to? At first, some speculated that it may have been related to the initial criticisms from pundits and bloggers over provocative Twitter posts that he made about Rachel Maddow’s appearance, Newt Gingrich’s wife Calista’s appearance, Hillary Clinton’s appearance, Michele Obama’s accent, and other snarky tweets. But it quickly seemed unlikely that those criticisms led to Grenell’s sudden departure. Most of them came from left-of-center and beyond, which Republicans tend to wear as a badge of honor (as many Democrats do with criticism from the right). And besides, by April 22 when Grenell deleted some 800 tweets and took his personal web site offline, those criticisms were already loosing traction. The world quickly moved on to the next outrage.

Well, most of the world anyway. One key component of the restive GOP base didn’t. SPLC-certified hate-artist Bryan Fischer of American Family Association called Grenell’s appointment “a deliberate poke in the eye” to Christian conservatives, and mounted a campaign for Grenell’s removal with a six-point list of demands for Gov. Romney. Family “Research” Council warned that Grenell’s support for same-sex marriage would have him lobbying “for foreign policy more in line with the current administration than the last Republican one.” National Review’s Matthew Franck wrote that Grenell supported marriage equality “with a kind of unhinged devotion that suggests a man with questionable judgment.” He even suggested that Grenell’s gayness would cause him to turn traitor to the Republican cause and switch teams if Obama were to come out for same-sex marriage.

Those criticisms apparently spooked and paralyzed the Romney campaign. Andrew Sullivan did some “actual reporting from yours truly” and got to the bottom of Grenell’s resignation:

It seems clear from sources close to Grenell and reporters on the foreign policy beat that his turning point came last week. He’d been part of organizing a conference call to respond to Vice President Biden’s foreign policy speech, now known best for the “big stick” remark. So some reporters were puzzled as to why Grenell, a week into his job as Romney’s national security spokesman, was not introduced by name as part of the Romney team at the beginning of the call, and his voice completely absent from the conversation. Some even called and questioned him afterwards as to why he was absent. He wasn’t absent. He was simply muzzled. For a job where you are supposed to maintain good relations with reporters, being silenced on a key conference call on your area of expertise is pretty damaging. Especially when you helped set it up.

Sources close to Grenell say that he was specifically told by those high up in the Romney campaign to stay silent on the call, even while he was on it. And this was not the only time he had been instructed to shut up. Their response to the far right fooferaw was simply to go silent, to keep Grenell off-stage and mute, and to wait till the storm passed. But the storm was not likely to pass if no one in the Romney camp was prepared to back Grenell up. Hence his dilemma. The obvious solution was simply to get Grenell out there doling out the neocon red meat — which would have immediately changed the subject and helped dispel base skepticism. Instead the terrified Romneyites shut him up without any actual plan for when he might subsequently be able to do his job. To my mind, it’s a mark of his integrity that he decided to quit rather than be put in this absurd situation. And it’s a mark of Romney’s fundamental weakness within his own party that he could not back his spokesman against the Bryan Fischers and Matthew Francks.

This confirms what the Washington Post learned shortly after Grenell’s resignation, when Jennifer Rubin wrote: “The ongoing pressure from social conservatives over his appointment and the reluctance of the Romney campaign to send Grenell out as a spokesman while controversy swirled left Grenell essentially with no job.” She later reported that many members of the campaign privately reached out to Grenell over the weekend to try to persuade him from resigning, but they were unsuccessful. She then reiterated the root of the problem: “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.”

[Update: The New York Times this morning has more. During that foreign policy conference call:

It turned out he was at home in Los Angeles, listening in, but stone silent and seething. A few minutes earlier, a senior Romney aide had delivered an unexpected directive, according to several people involved in the call.

“Ric,” said Alex Wong, a policy aide, “the campaign has requested that you not speak on this call.” Mr. Wong added, “It’s best to lay low for now.”

For Mr. Grenell, the message was clear: he had become radioactive.

After interviewing more than a dozen aids and advisers, The Times describes the episode as “halting attempts by the campaign to manage its relationship with the most conservative quarter of the Republican Party.”

“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.”]

This leaves many wondering if there is any room for gay Republicans in visible positions. GOPRoud’s Jimmy LaSilva said, “This was an opportunity to send an important message that Mitt Romney wants everybody to get behind him and to support his campaign. They let that opportunity pass.” [Update: Go Proud’s Christopher Barron added, “It doesn’t bode well for the Romney campaign going forward if they couldn’t stand up to the most outrageous attacks about him being gay.” Fred Karger, who ran against Romney as an openly gay candidate told TPM,

“It’s going to be difficult for Romney to take other steps like this. And that’s what’s really frightening to me. It’s just too tough to stand up to these groups because they have a lot of money and power. You’ve got to be able to do that, that’s leadership.”]

Sullivan was more direct:

So if all gay Republicans who support marriage equality are banned even from speaking on other topics entirely (like Iran or Afghanistan, where Grenell is a fire-breather), who’s left? The answer, I’m afraid, is no one. Grenell was prepared to stay silent on gay issues entirely and do his job. But that wasn’t enough. Romney’s anti-gay agenda is therefore deeper and more extreme than Bush’s.

Meanwhile, AFA’s Bryan Fischer is declaring Grenell’s resignation a huge win. With continued silence from the Romney camp, this leaves likes of Fischer to operate as the de-facto gatekeepers of acceptable members of the Romney campaign — and perhaps even of a Romney administration.