WASHINGTON, May 3, 2012 – Politics is about winners and losers. With the resignation of my friend, Ric Grenell, from the Mitt Romney campaign, I grieve for a good man who was badly treated by the hyper-partisanship of today’s political climate, but I am also convinced that nobody – not Republicans, LGBT Americans, or even the social conservatives who called for Ric’s head – scored a victory this week.
The Romney campaign has lost an experienced, talented and fierce advocate for a strong foreign policy and America’s unique and vital role in the world. I worked with Ric as part of the George W. Bush Administration, and I know him to be the most qualified person for this job. Ric earned the confidence of men like Ambassadors John D. Negroponte, John C. Danforth, John R. Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad, and the GOP is losing out with him sitting on the sideline. We need him in the game this election cycle.
The gay community, despite the hatred it greeted Ric with when his appointment was announced, has lost as well.
As executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, I’ve heard it all – “self-loathing,” “Uncle Tom,” “chicken for Colonel Sanders” – but the deluge of abuse heaped on Ric for daring to work for a moderate Republican was impressive. Liberal commentator Jonathan Capehart went so far as to say “Richard Grenell chose power over principle” and to accuse him of being a hypocrite for being a gay conservative working within the party.”
And yet, now that his detractors have gotten what they wished for, some LGBT Americans are realizing the danger of the message that has been sent. Half of this country routinely votes Republican, and every recent advance for our liberty, from marriage in New York to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” has required significant Republican support.
It is amazing how fast our community can forget that it was Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) who resurrected DADT repeal in the 2010 lame duck session, and it was New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R) who fulfilled a promise to Log Cabin Republicans to allow a vote on marriage in the GOP-led chamber. If it is true – or even if Americans only perceive it to be true – that far right activists like American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer are powerful enough to force a good man out of a job he is the most qualified to fill, that will make it harder to move forward on the issues that matter to LGBT Americans.
We need Log Cabin Republicans to work for change within the party, and when one of us falls, we all suffer for it.
Social conservative leaders know this, which is why they are crowing today – but their litmus test of what it takes to be a conservative is bad politics, and in the long term they are destined to lose.
This is a story that the Romney campaign never wanted; the Romney team would much rather be talking about jobs and the economy. The campaign deserves more credit for hiring Ric even though they fumbled the execution, but now they will be under real pressure to prove that Mitt Romney is not antigay to an American voting public that is increasingly intolerant of discrimination.
Despite contrary statements on the record, the story became “Romney campaign forces out gay staffer” for two reasons. First, there is the stereotype that Republicans are bigoted and antigay, which is not true of Mitt Romney, who has long opposed discrimination and appointed openly gay people to his administration in Massachusetts. The GOP needs to address this stereotype if it wants to have a chance at winning younger voters, moderates, independents and female voters who polls show in clear support of equality for all Americans.
The second reason is deeper and has thus far gone unaddressed – Americans, particularly gays and lesbians, are interpreting Ric’s resignation as a firing because in 29 states across this country it is still entirely legal to fire somebody based solely on his or her sexual orientation.
If the Romney campaign wants to defuse this story and make clear that the Republican candidate believes in a society where Americans are judged solely on their ability to perform, now is the time to prove it by showing unambiguous support for federal protections from workplace discrimination. It is wrong that federal contractors paid with federal tax dollars are still allowed to fire people for being LGBT.
Nearly three fourths of Americans, including sixty-six percent of Republicans, support these legal protections. If Mitt Romney were to stand up tomorrow and declare that no American should ever fear for their job because of who they are, it would be a win for all of us – and the story of Mitt Romney, antigay Republican, would finally go away.
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