David Frum

05.07.12

Romney's Campaign Can't Say "No"

In my column for CNN, I explain how Romeny's campaign fumbled Richard Grenell's resignation, and look at some other errors it has made:

There is something tragic in the unfolding of Mitt Romney's campaign for president.

Here is a supremely intelligent and competent man, superbly qualified in so many ways for the highest executive office.

Yet through six years of campaigning for the presidency, he has allowed himself to be remade and redefined by his worst enemies.

It happened again last week.

The Romney campaign had hired a new foreign policy spokesman, Richard Grenell, a former aide to then-U.N. ambassador John Bolton.

Grenell is a fierce conservative who is also outspokenly gay. Grenell has taken strong public stances in favor of same-sex marriage. The Romney campaign knew all that when it hired him. Grenell had the competence to do the job, and nothing else mattered. As it shouldn't.

The hiring came under attack. As attacks go, this wasn't much: A couple of obnoxious blog posts and a tirade by a local radio host who runs a third-tier social conservative group. Still, the campaign opted to take cover. It reduced Grenell's visibility, keeping him off a conference call with media where someone might ask about the social-conservative criticism, that kind of thing.

Nobody at the campaign wanted to lose Grenell. In fact, he was repeatedly urged to stay. The campaign only wanted a discreet interval for the fuss to blow over.

The trouble was that Grenell got the job in the first place because he is a fighter. When the campaign wouldn't fight for him, he decided he wouldn't fight for it. He resigned. The hiring of Grenell interested only political insiders. His departure detonated one of Romney's worst news weeks.

Political professionals will remind us that there remain six months to November. By voting day, the Grenell story will have been long forgotten -- even by the comparatively small number of people who ever heard of it in the first place.

Maybe. But what a campaign does is paint an image of a candidate in the public mind. The Grenell flap added a stroke to that image: The Romney campaign yields to anti-gay intolerance. That stroke lands on top of other strokes, some fair, others unfair, but all together cohering into an ever-more focused picture.

Click here to read the full column.