Mitt Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom said Friday that "voices of intolerance" arose after the campaign hired openly gay national spokesman Richard Grenell, and that those voices led to his resignation this week.
"I will say that of course there were voices of intolerance that expressed themselves during this debate -- that was unfortunate," he said on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown." "Mitt Romney has confronted those voices of intolerance, he did it last October on stage at the Values Voters Summit, where he denounced some of the poisonous language that is being used by some of the same people who had criticized Ric Grenell's appointment."
"So he has a record of taking on intolerant voices within his own party. And it's unfortunate that in this case it led to the resignation of a person that we thought would have been a fine foreign policy spokesman for us."
Some social conservatives had criticized Grenell's hiring because of his sexual orientation and public support for gay marriage. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, who Romney condemned in October, slammed Grenell over his sexual orientation.
The Huffington Post's Jon Ward reported that sources said Grenell thought more should have been done to push back against the criticism.
"But Grenell thinks the Romney campaign staffers could have and should have done more to quiet conservative leaders and that they lacked the willingness or ability to publicly confront or privately persuade those leaders, according to sources familiar with his thinking," Ward reported.
R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Friday that Fehrnstrom's pushback was "not enough." "Good time to stand up for all Americans," he tweeted.
In his first comments on the Grenell flap on Friday morning, Romney said that he had wanted Grenell to stay on the campaign.
"Well we wanted him to stay with our team," Romney said on "Fox and Friends." "He's a very accomplished spokesperson and we select people not based upon their ethnicity or their sexual preference or gender but based on their capability."
He said that the campaign had tried to persuade Grenell to change his mind. "A whole series of the senior people on my team and my supporters called him and encouraged him to stay, but he expressed a desire to move on and I wish him the very best," Romney said. Indeed, HuffPost reported that top Romney officials and former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, who is gay, tried to keep him on the team.
In a statement Tuesday, Grenell said he decided to resign because his "ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign." He added that "being openly gay was a non-issue for [Romney] and his team."
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