What’s the story with Richard Grenell?

Richard Grenell, selected two weeks ago by the Romney campaign as its spokesman on foreign policy issues, has resigned on what was to be his first official day on the job. Grenell, who is openly gay and has spoken in favor of gay rights, came in for criticism from influential social conservatives such as Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer.

In a statement, Grenell explained his resignation this way:

While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, 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. I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.

The Romney campaign may be putting out mixed messages about the Grenell resignation. Campaign manager Rick Rhoads said: “We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill.” But according to the National Journal, a source close to the Romney campaign denied that Grenell resigned because of complaints about his sexual orientation. Rather, the source said, Grenell had become a story himself, which a spokesman should never do. The implication of this account is that the campaign was, in fact, unhappy with Grenell.

But the statement by the unnamed source presents a false dichotomy. As far as I can tell, Grenell “became a story himself” precisely because of the complaints about his sexual orientation and/or his views on gay rights. And these views, along with the fact that they engender hostility, were known to the Romney campaign all along. I’d like to think that Rhoads’ comment reflects the campaign’s true view of the matter.

If it does, and if reports over the weekend that the campaign asked Grenell to stay on are true, then why did he resign? There are reports that he was miffed because he was “kept under wraps” during the flap over suggestions from the Obama camp that Romney would not have approved the operation that took out bin Laden. But Grenell wasn’t in his new position yet when this controversy broke out.

Jen Rubin points to another possible explanation of the resignation – the campaign didn’t back Grenell sufficiently in the face of conservative criticism of the appointment. As she puts it, “there was no public statement of support for Grenell by the campaign and no supportive social conservatives were enlisted to calm the waters.”

At this point, we don’t know the full story. But what we do know seems to reflect poorly on the Romney campaign. If Grenell wasn’t someone the campaign could stand behind, it shouldn’t have selected him. Once it selected him, unless significant new information came to light ( Politico cites some nasty twitter commentary Grenell has indulged in, but the campaign knew or should have known about this), the campaign should have stood strongly behind him. And if the campaign did stand strongly behind him but Grenell quit anyway, then Grenell was a poor choice all along.

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