Ricgrenellgate

It’s becoming clear that Mitt Romney’s campaign is going a fine job of turning an internal staff issue into a real problem that just won’t go away easily. I’m referring to the Ric Grenell saga, which is in the process of complicating (to use one term for it) Team Mitt’s relationship with what’s left of gay Republicans, with moderates and libertarians who put up with the Christian Right only when it stays in its place, and with the news media, including its very favorite blogger, Jennifer Rubin, who occupies some valuable online real estate at WaPo. All this is happening at a key transitional moment where the Romney campaign should be executing a smooth pivot to its general election staffing and message.

The latest turn in the story is the revelation (first via Andrew Sullivan, and then the New York Times) that the Romney campaign was, well, kinda lying when it put out the word that Grenell quit before he was really on board, and might have been playing his own “gay politics” game at poor Mitt’s expense.

Grenell was in fact on board, if not on the payroll, and actually organized a key conference call of foreign policy reporters on April 26 but was forbidden to speak on it. So he was “under wraps” after all in the midst of the general election campaign’s first big week of foreign policy controversy, because the Romney campaign was fearful of more social conservative blowback over his hiring. They figured it would eventually blow over, but weren’t giving Grenell any assurances of when he could, so to speak, come out of the closet.

Any way you look at it, the Romney campaign screwed this up royally, either when they hired Grenell, or when they refused to defend him from homophobes, or when they told him to keep his mouth shut, or when they lied about why he quit, or maybe on all these occasions.

To those who object that this whole kerfuffle is classic “inside baseball” that actual voters don’t know about and wouldn’t care about, I’d say I agree, with this qualification: it’s a hell of a lot more relevant to the presidential election than Hilaryrosengate, which did not involve the Obama campaign at all, but which the Romney campaign itself has just held out as a model for coordinated conservative gabbing between now and November. Hence the title of this post.

If the Romney campaign is going to play silly games with news coverage of the campaign and keep making mountains out of molehills, it’s in a poor position to complain when other people notice the mountains it’s made out of its very own molehills: particularly when said molehill covers up its tangled positions on issues of sexual orientation and its unsavory relationship with the Christian Right.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.