A leading anti-gay figure in the Republican Party attacked Governor Mitt Romney for hiring an openly gay spokesman, sending a shot from the GOP's socially-conservative base across the nominee's bow.
Bryan Fischer, the director of issue analysis for the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association, is probably the most straightforwardly anti-gay Republican to appear regularly in the party's mainstream. Presidential candidates including Rick Santorum have appeared on his radio show, and he spoke at the Values Voter Summit in Washington in October.
He responded yesterday to Romney's decision to hire an openly-gay — "out & loud gay," in Fischer's terms — foreign policy spokesman, Richard Grenell by calling it a "message to the pro-family community" of "drop dead."
Grenell was a longtime spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. He was known by the press as a loyal, and combative, appointee to a series of ambassadors including John Bolton, to whom he remains close. He also fought a long, and unsuccessful battle for formal recognition of his partner in diplomatic documents.
The blast from Fischer comes after Romney, in an unusual act that drew less attention than it might have, publicly distanced himself in strong terms from Fischer from the stage of the Values Voter Summit.
"“Our values ennoble the citizen and strengthen the nation. We should remember that decency and civility are values too,” Romney said. “One of the speakers who will follow me today, has crossed that line, I think. Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It’s never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind.”
Grenell has also criticized Democrats for settling for Obama's halfway positions on issues like gay marriage, though Romney is considerably to Obama's right.
Gay conservatives, meanwhile, defended Grenell and praised Romney for the move.
"Ric Grennell is the best person for the job. That's why Governor Romney hired him. Throughout his entire career, Mitt Romney has brought together top talent to tackle the tasks at hand. All Americans should want the best people helping to elect him to take on the job of bringing America back," Jimmy LaSalvia, the executive director of the group GOProud, told BuzzFeed. "It's too bad that Mr. Fischer doesn't agree."
Others sought to use the moment to cast Fischer beyond the pale.
"So to be clear - Fischer believes that gay people shouldn't be hired by the Romney campaign at all," said GOProud co-founder Chris Barron. "Shows what am unreconstructed bigot he really is. It's never been about protecting marriage for bigots like Fischer and he continues to expose what a charade his 'marriage' and 'family' talk has been all along."
And Grenell's appointment appointment was greeted warmly by some gay leaders.
“We applaud the participation of out professionals in government and politics. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, serving openly is important. It allows you to speak honestly about yourself and the LGBT community to colleagues inside campaigns and government offices,"
Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, told The Advocate yesterday.
Even the gay group human rights campaign, a frequent Romney critic, sided with the Republican on this one.
"Ric's been hired because he's good at what he does and that's what matters. At the end of the day, that's what Americans care about," said HRC's vice president for communications, Fred Sainz. "While i don't agree with his politics, there's absolutely no denying that Ric is incredibly smart and undeniably strategic."
Some Democratic gay activists, however, saw the flap in less sympathetic terms.
"Let them have at it," Richard Socarides, a former Clinton aide, told BuzzFeed. "Fun for the whole family."
Grenell and Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom didn't respond to inquiries about Fischer's tweet.