After just weeks in the job, Richard Grenell suddenly resigns as Mitt Romney's foreign affairs spokesman - after a backlash from social conservatives about his sexuality.
His appointment was hailed as a milestone for Republican politics: the first time an openly gay man had been made a press spokesman for a presidential campaign. Richard Grenell, who worked for John Bolton at the United Nations during the Bush years, was eminently qualified: yet his brief time as Romney's foreign affairs spokesman was mired in controversy from the start.
Barely had his name been mentioned, than he was forced to apologise over dozens of sexist, offensive tweets about celebrities, media figures, and prominent women like Hillary Clinton and Callista Gingrich. Hundreds of messages were hastily deleted from his Twitter account, which turned from highly outspoken mouthpiece to a mere trickle of official statements about foreign policy.
My ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished. Richard Grenell
"My tweets were written to be tongue-in-cheek and humorous, but I can now see how they can also be hurtful", Grenell admitted, but not before a host of questions about the wisdom of having a press spokesman who had already made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
And it did not stop there. Anti-gay evangelist Bryan Fischer, head of issues analysis for the American Family Association, was apoplepctic about Grenell's avowed support for gay marriage. He declared that the choice of an openly gay spokesman sent a "message to the pro-family community: drop dead". Conservative writers in the National Review and Daily Caller followed suit.
The response from the Romney campaign was conspicuous by its silence, while Grenell was kept under wraps: for a press spokesman, he was not doing much speaking to the press. Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer was just one of those who thought it strange that Grenell was not more prominent, at a time when his issue was dominating the news cycle: "I don't know why he wasn't the spokesman on foreign policy for the last several days", he said.
It all led to tensions within the team over Grenell's role, according to the former Gingrich adviser Christian Whiton, among friends who suggested that he had effectively been forced to leave. He told Politico: "Ric was frustrated that Team Romney wouldn't aggressively engage Obama on foreign policy."
Yesterday, it appeared that those tensions had become insurmountable. Grenell announced in the Washington Post that his ability to function as a spokesman had been "greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes come from a presidential campaign", but thanked Mitt Romney for his "clear message that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team".
Conspicuous by their silence
Indeed, when Grenell was named as spokesman, the Romney campaign made it clear that he had been appointed purely for his experience and his ability to do the job. Yet they failed to come out with any public response to the homophobic comments emanating from a leading evangelical activist, and prominent social conservatives.
One openly gay Republican, Fred Karger, told Talking Points Memo: "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." And Altantic's editor at large, Steve Clemons, said "Romney and his core people are not anti-gay, but they just didn't have a strategy to deal with the zealots on the right."
Romney campaign spokesman Matt Rhoades said the team had urged Grenell to stay: "We are disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons. We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill", he said.
It is never a good thing when a press spokesman becomes better known for making headlines, than informing the stories behind them. But the resignation of Richard Grenell has left a cloud of disappointment hanging over the Romney campaign, from those who had hoped that this "milestone in Republican politics" might last for more than a few weeks.
Felicity Spector writes about US politics for Channel 4 News