Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican contender to fight incumbent Barack Obama at the 2012 elections, has appointed Richard Grenell, an openly gay man as the national security and foreign policy spokesperson, which has proved doubly controversial, partly due to outrage from social conservatives, and partly because of apparently sexist tweets he had sent prior the appointment.
The Washington Post, which first released the story, did not mention Mr Grenell’s sexual orientation. He worked under the Bush administration till September 2008 as a spokesperson to the US ambassador for the United Nations, and had, in an interview with The Advocate, spoken of his hope to marry his partner of ten years in New York.
Andrew Sullivan, the conservative blogger who endorsed Mr Obama in 2008, said of the appointment: “For Romney to have an openly gay spokesman is a real outreach to gay Republicans, a subtle signal to moderates, and the Santorum faction’s reaction will be worth noting.”
The vice-precident of Human Rights Campaign, Fred Sainz, said that having worked with Mr Grenell in the past, and despite disagreeing with him politically, he was glad of his appointment to be represented in the Romney campaign.
The appointment, which was announced over the weekend, has drawn predictable outrage from some social and religious conservatives. Bryan Fischer of the Mississippi-based American Family Association immediately denounced Grenell as an “out and loud gay,” and that Romney’s appointment was a “message to the pro-family community” to “drop dead.”
Today, he reiterated that message through Twitter, saying: “Romney’s gay hire would serve in his administration in national security… You want to tell me there’s no Secret Service-type risk here?” That said, Messrs Fischer and Romney have fallen out before, when, during a conservative conference last autumn, Romney denounced Fischer’s use of “poisonous language” against his perceived opponents.
However, Mr Romney’s appointment has caused further trouble, thanks to Mr Grenell himself. The latter has been accused of sexism over the many remarks he made on Twitter before his appointment was announced.
It is reported that more than 800 tweets were deleted from his account in recent days, though they seem to have survived through archiving sites, and thanks to astute reporters who acted quicker than Mr Grenell hismelf.
One tweet said: “Hillary is starting to look like Madeleine Albright,” comparing Mrs Clinton to the first woman to be appointed as Secretary of State by Bill Clinton.
Another tweet, aimed at the third wife of Newt Gingrich, said: “Callista stands there like she is wife #1,” later adding: “Do you think Callista’s hair snaps on?”
He also took jabs at the first lady and several female celebrities. One, aimed at Rachel Madow, a talk show host on MSNBC, was described as a “dead ringer for Justin Bieber,” and should “take a breath and wear a necklace.”
Ms Maddow retaliated by asking in her show whether Mr Romney’s campaign wondered whether “a long string of really nasty, sexist tweets about Callista Gingrich’s appearance might be alienating to people who might otherwise consider voting for Mr. Romney.”
Given that recent polls suggest women favouring Mr Obama by up to 20 percentage points, and that women make up more than half the American electorate, this is seen as a headache for Mr Romney’s campaign, which has yet to comment on the controversy.
Mr Grenell himself has apologised for his remarks, saying while they were meant to be humorous, he understood that they could be interpreted as hurtful.