Commentary Magazine


Topic: Romney campaign

Clinton’s Motivation for Killing Bain Attack

To be fair, Cory Booker and Deval Patrick were really the ones who killed Obama’s Bain Capital strategy. But last night on CNN, Bill Clinton basically dipped it in cement and threw it in the East River:

Bill Clinton, in an appearance on CNN last night, said that Mitt Romney has a “sterling business career” and that the campaign shouldn’t be about what kind of work Romney did.

“I don’t think we ought to get into the position where we say this is bad work; this is good work,” Clinton said, adding: “There’s no question that, in terms of getting up, going to the office, and basically performing the essential functions of the office, a man who’s been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”

Clinton urged the Obama campaign to instead focus on contrasting its vision for the country with Romney’s. His comments came at the tail end of a day in which another Obama surrogate, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), called Bain a “a perfectly fine company.”

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To be fair, Cory Booker and Deval Patrick were really the ones who killed Obama’s Bain Capital strategy. But last night on CNN, Bill Clinton basically dipped it in cement and threw it in the East River:

Bill Clinton, in an appearance on CNN last night, said that Mitt Romney has a “sterling business career” and that the campaign shouldn’t be about what kind of work Romney did.

“I don’t think we ought to get into the position where we say this is bad work; this is good work,” Clinton said, adding: “There’s no question that, in terms of getting up, going to the office, and basically performing the essential functions of the office, a man who’s been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”

Clinton urged the Obama campaign to instead focus on contrasting its vision for the country with Romney’s. His comments came at the tail end of a day in which another Obama surrogate, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), called Bain a “a perfectly fine company.”

Obviously, Clinton can’t be excused as a political neophyte and probably knew exactly what he was doing when he made that comment. The choice of words — lauding Romney’s “sterling business career” — went beyond what even Patrick or Booker have said about Romney. If Clinton wanted to merely express his disapproval of Obama’s strategy, he could have done it more subtly and without praising Romney’s career. He had to know he was giving Romney a priceless campaign soundbite that it will play on a loop whenever the Obama campaign tries to drag out the Bain attack again, effectively destroying any possibility that the strategy can be salvaged.

The question is, why? In the best case scenario, maybe Clinton was actually trying to help Obama. The former president is extremely well attuned to political trends, and maybe he senses that the Bain strategy will continue to bog down the Obama team if they keep pursuing it. Clinton’s argument that the election has to be about the big picture was similar to an argument his former pollster Douglas Schoen has made: Obama needs a clear, sweeping message for his campaign, a vision for a second term that transcends attack politics. Maybe Clinton was hoping his comments last night would be a sharp nudge in that direction.

Or, more cynically, maybe this wasn’t about helping Obama at all. Clinton has caused some headaches for this White House, and maybe he just doesn’t feel he has much to gain from Obama’s reelection, particularly if he wants Hillary to try again in 2016.

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Republicans Aren’t Rolling Over

Obama chief strategist David Axelrod shouldn’t have been surprised to see that a lot of Republicans turned up at the kickoff at the Statehouse in Boston for his campaign event tearing down Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. Though the event was supposedly a secret, it reportedly was leaked on Twitter, and a GOP response team was quick to react. Romney supporters chanting “Solyndra” — a reference to the failed energy company that was the recipient of so much Obama administration largesse, heckled Axelrod, turning the gathering into a bipartisan shouting match rather than an Obama show. The same day, Romney staged an event at the Fremont, California headquarters of Solyndra in a carefully planned attempt to upstage the Democrat’s efforts to seize control of the news cycle.

While all of this can and should just be put down to the usual give and take of a hotly contested presidential campaign, it does show that a lot has changed since the last time Axelrod was running a national campaign. Whereas in 2008, the campaign of John McCain was clearly outmatched in terms of technology and smarts by the “hope and change” juggernaut that put Barack Obama in the White House, in 2012 the GOP is determined not to roll over for the Democrats. If today is any indication of how things will go the next five months, Axelrod is in for a long, hard slog against an opponent capable of nimbly returning serve and scoring points even on days that the Chicago campaign guru thought would belong to him.

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Obama chief strategist David Axelrod shouldn’t have been surprised to see that a lot of Republicans turned up at the kickoff at the Statehouse in Boston for his campaign event tearing down Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. Though the event was supposedly a secret, it reportedly was leaked on Twitter, and a GOP response team was quick to react. Romney supporters chanting “Solyndra” — a reference to the failed energy company that was the recipient of so much Obama administration largesse, heckled Axelrod, turning the gathering into a bipartisan shouting match rather than an Obama show. The same day, Romney staged an event at the Fremont, California headquarters of Solyndra in a carefully planned attempt to upstage the Democrat’s efforts to seize control of the news cycle.

While all of this can and should just be put down to the usual give and take of a hotly contested presidential campaign, it does show that a lot has changed since the last time Axelrod was running a national campaign. Whereas in 2008, the campaign of John McCain was clearly outmatched in terms of technology and smarts by the “hope and change” juggernaut that put Barack Obama in the White House, in 2012 the GOP is determined not to roll over for the Democrats. If today is any indication of how things will go the next five months, Axelrod is in for a long, hard slog against an opponent capable of nimbly returning serve and scoring points even on days that the Chicago campaign guru thought would belong to him.

As for the civility of the GOP tactics, any Democratic complaints about the heckling in Boston today would be hypocritical. Pro-Obama hecklers have dogged Romney since the beginning of the campaign. As Byron York notes in the Washington Examiner, Romney was practically shouted down by Democrat kibitzers in New Hampshire and earlier this year in Detroit. Last week, the president’s campaign even organized a high-ranking delegation of hecklers to try to derail a Romney event at a West Philadelphia charter school by dragooning Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter as well as District Attorney Seth Williams to show up and speak against the Republican candidate.

While Axelrod can expect things to go more smoothly on other days, the success of Romney’s staff in turning the tables on the Democrats proves they are capable of playing in the big leagues of national politics. That’s something McCain’s staff showed time and again in 2008 that they were not always capable of doing. The GOP effort will also not be handicapped by the enormous financial disadvantage that they labored under four years ago when the Obama campaign amassed a war chest that dwarfed McCain’s resources.

The Democrats still have the advantage of incumbency, a presidential candidate who is still a historic figure who appeals to the imagination of the public and the home cooking that the liberal press always gives the Democrats in general and Obama in particular. But the Boston and Solyndra events should impress upon Axelrod and his minions that they are in for the fight of their lives this year against opponents who are determined to beat him at his own games.

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Obama, Romney Tied in Key Battlegrounds

Today’s NBC/Marist poll finds that President Obama and Mitt Romney are now in a dead heat in three critical battleground states that swung to Obama in 2008:

President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney are deadlocked in three key presidential battleground states, according to a new round of NBC/Marist polls.

In Iowa, the two rivals are tied at 44 percent among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a candidate. Ten percent of voters in the Hawkeye State are completely undecided.

In Colorado, Obama gets support from 46 percent of registered voters, while Romney gets 45 percent.

And in Nevada, the president is at 48 percent and Romney is at 46 percent.

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Today’s NBC/Marist poll finds that President Obama and Mitt Romney are now in a dead heat in three critical battleground states that swung to Obama in 2008:

President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney are deadlocked in three key presidential battleground states, according to a new round of NBC/Marist polls.

In Iowa, the two rivals are tied at 44 percent among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a candidate. Ten percent of voters in the Hawkeye State are completely undecided.

In Colorado, Obama gets support from 46 percent of registered voters, while Romney gets 45 percent.

And in Nevada, the president is at 48 percent and Romney is at 46 percent.

Colorado, Nevada and Iowa are particularly important to the Obama campaign because one of his most viable electoral paths requires him to win all three. Previous polls have shown Obama with an edge in these states, so Romney seems to be gaining ground. And as Jim Geraghty notes at the National Review, this is a tie among registered voters; we can probably assume that Romney’s numbers would be slightly higher among likely voters, which tend to skew more conservative.

At the National Journal, Josh Kraushaar weighs in on why this poll should raise alarms for the Obama campaign:

President Obama’s campaign team has increasingly focused on the Southwest as their must-win battleground region as it seeks to cobble a path to 270 electoral votes. But today’s crop of NBC/Marist state polls suggest that Obama is in as much trouble in swing states like Colorado and Nevada as he is in the more-traditional battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida. …

The electoral map CW has been that Romney has a tougher path to 270 electoral votes since the demographic changes in the Southwest would give the president a slight edge in Colorado and New Mexico, and allow him to compete in Nevada. But if those states are looking as vulnerable as Ohio, Florida and Virginia for the president, Obama has as little room for error as Romney.

Indeed. The Obama campaign’s ostentatious overconfidence earlier this month is looking sillier by the day. This is going to be a close race, even if Obama’s own supporters (and some of his campaign staff) still don’t grasp that yet.

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Gay Marriage Distraction Intentional?

Ed Morrissey has an interesting column in This Week, arguing that Joe Biden’s gay marriage comments may have been a shrewd political calculation as opposed to a slipup during routine bloviation. I think he’s giving Biden too much credit, but there’s definitely a case to be made that this helps the Obama campaign in several ways:

Consider the coincidence of Education Secretary Arne Duncan offering a corroborating point of view the day after Biden’s statement. Brought to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss Teacher Appreciation Week, Duncan was greeted by TIME’s Mark Halperin with this “icebreaker” question: “Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?” Despite the tortured syntax of the query and an objection to the question by a “Morning Joe” panelist, Duncan gave an ironic “I do” in reply, pushing the issue even farther into the public consciousness, and giving Biden some much-needed political cover.

Nor do the coincidences end there. This comes just after the much-publicized departure of foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell from the Romney campaign. …

Even more likely, though, Biden’s gambit was an attempt to keep the media preoccupied with issues other than jobs and the economy. It’s also no coincidence that this eruption came just 48 hours after another disappointing jobs report.

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Ed Morrissey has an interesting column in This Week, arguing that Joe Biden’s gay marriage comments may have been a shrewd political calculation as opposed to a slipup during routine bloviation. I think he’s giving Biden too much credit, but there’s definitely a case to be made that this helps the Obama campaign in several ways:

Consider the coincidence of Education Secretary Arne Duncan offering a corroborating point of view the day after Biden’s statement. Brought to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss Teacher Appreciation Week, Duncan was greeted by TIME’s Mark Halperin with this “icebreaker” question: “Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?” Despite the tortured syntax of the query and an objection to the question by a “Morning Joe” panelist, Duncan gave an ironic “I do” in reply, pushing the issue even farther into the public consciousness, and giving Biden some much-needed political cover.

Nor do the coincidences end there. This comes just after the much-publicized departure of foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell from the Romney campaign. …

Even more likely, though, Biden’s gambit was an attempt to keep the media preoccupied with issues other than jobs and the economy. It’s also no coincidence that this eruption came just 48 hours after another disappointing jobs report.

Read the whole thing if you have a chance. Even if Biden’s gay marriage comments weren’t intentional, the Romney campaign will need to be careful with how they proceed on this. According to a new Gallup poll out today, fully half of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage, compared to 48 percent who oppose. Several of Romney’s most prominent donors are also active in the fight for gay marriage rights.

Many of Obama’s key donors support gay marriage as well. So while the issue is a pleasant distraction for him from economic talk, and yet another opening to bludgeon Romney as far-right and out-of-touch, it also puts the president in a bind. Already some top Obama donors are withholding money from his campaign based on his rejection of a gay rights executive order, Greg Sargent reports. And Obama’s hedging on the gay marriage issue is sure to fuel the perception that he’s choosing politics over principles.

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Is Obama’s Vetting Finally Beginning?

As trivial as the Obama-eats-dogs and composite-girlfriend memes might seem, they actually speak to a deeper issue. At the Telegraph, Tim Stanley argues:

What stands out from the composite story isn’t that Obama amalgamated characters, it’s that the press hadn’t noticed until now. As with the dog story, this confirms the suspicion that the mainstream media gave Obama a free pass in 2008 and declined to check too deeply into his background. Even The Atlantic’s [David] Graham admits that he’s never read Dreams From My Father, and neither, it would seem, has anyone else in the press corps. They have the excuse that the book is incredibly narcissistic and boring, but otherwise isn’t this exactly the sort of character assessment/assassination that should have happened four years ago? …

And yet we knew everything there was to know about Sarah Palin, despite the fact that she was in the race for a much shorter space of time than Obama – and only running for veep.

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As trivial as the Obama-eats-dogs and composite-girlfriend memes might seem, they actually speak to a deeper issue. At the Telegraph, Tim Stanley argues:

What stands out from the composite story isn’t that Obama amalgamated characters, it’s that the press hadn’t noticed until now. As with the dog story, this confirms the suspicion that the mainstream media gave Obama a free pass in 2008 and declined to check too deeply into his background. Even The Atlantic’s [David] Graham admits that he’s never read Dreams From My Father, and neither, it would seem, has anyone else in the press corps. They have the excuse that the book is incredibly narcissistic and boring, but otherwise isn’t this exactly the sort of character assessment/assassination that should have happened four years ago? …

And yet we knew everything there was to know about Sarah Palin, despite the fact that she was in the race for a much shorter space of time than Obama – and only running for veep.

This election, the Romney campaign is not going to be broaching the issue of Obama’s past, so unless the press brings up these stories, they won’t be discussed. Republicans are intent on running against Obama’s record, not his personal background, and it’s obvious why. Conservatives might find Obama’s past radical associations horrifying, but these stories have never been very successful at informing public opinion about the president. And some of the nuttier conspiracy theories about Obama’s past, particularly the birther movement, have actually been politically helpful for him. The president and his staff elevated the birther nonsense last spring, and his campaign even fundraised off of it.

In contrast, the White House is reportedly uneasy about the upcoming David Maraniss book. Because Maraniss is not a conservative, his reporting can’t be easily dismissed, and his book threatens to undermine the life narrative crafted by the Obama campaign. Politico reports:

The success of Dreams has given Obama nearly complete control of his own life narrative, an appealing tale that has been the foundation of his political success. But Maraniss’s biography threatens that narrative by questioning it: Was Obama’s journey entirely spiritual and intellectual? Or was it also grounded in the lower realms of ambition and calculation? …

There are some signs the president himself is concerned. In fact, Obama was so intent on having his side of the story convincingly articulated, he granted the author a virtually unprecedented 90-minute Oval Office interview, twice the allotted time Maraniss thought he was getting.

The brief excerpt from the book in Vanity Fair suggests that this will be the first serious, mainstream examination of Obama’s younger years, and a very compelling one at that. I’m not under any illusions that Maraniss will provide a full vetting of Obama in his book, which will likely be sympathetic to the president. But the fact that Maraniss has uncovered basic, and fascinating details of Obama’s life that were previously glossed over by the rest of the media, may at least prod other reporters into doing their jobs.

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Romney’s Biggest Problems

The Mitt Romney campaign is gearing up for a general election race in which it will have some clear advantages. The most important is that the economy remains the decisive issue for most of the public. That plays into Romney’s hands, because most Americans rightly perceive the country’s economic health has declined on President Obama’s watch, and because the former Massachusetts governor’s fiscal expertise is his greatest strength. But in spite of that edge, the Romney camp knows the steepest obstacles to a Republican victory are not factors that are susceptible to the candidate’s powers of persuasion.

In the past few weeks, as Romney was wrapping up his party’s nomination, he received a thorough education on his opponent’s most formidable assets: the ability of the mainstream liberal media to set the public agenda on the issues of the day and the power of incumbency. As the bogus theme of a Republican “war on women” as well as the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing demonstrated, President Obama retains the power to put the GOP on the defensive almost at will. This means the true challenges for the Romney campaign will not be whether they can prevent their standard-bearer from committing gaffes, their skill in overcoming problematic issues like RomneyCare or even uniting an obstreperous conservative movement behind his candidacy. It will be in fending off a ferocious assault from a chattering class dominated by the left and avoiding being left on the sidelines as the president effortlessly dominates news cycles.

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The Mitt Romney campaign is gearing up for a general election race in which it will have some clear advantages. The most important is that the economy remains the decisive issue for most of the public. That plays into Romney’s hands, because most Americans rightly perceive the country’s economic health has declined on President Obama’s watch, and because the former Massachusetts governor’s fiscal expertise is his greatest strength. But in spite of that edge, the Romney camp knows the steepest obstacles to a Republican victory are not factors that are susceptible to the candidate’s powers of persuasion.

In the past few weeks, as Romney was wrapping up his party’s nomination, he received a thorough education on his opponent’s most formidable assets: the ability of the mainstream liberal media to set the public agenda on the issues of the day and the power of incumbency. As the bogus theme of a Republican “war on women” as well as the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing demonstrated, President Obama retains the power to put the GOP on the defensive almost at will. This means the true challenges for the Romney campaign will not be whether they can prevent their standard-bearer from committing gaffes, their skill in overcoming problematic issues like RomneyCare or even uniting an obstreperous conservative movement behind his candidacy. It will be in fending off a ferocious assault from a chattering class dominated by the left and avoiding being left on the sidelines as the president effortlessly dominates news cycles.

The so-called war on women theme was thoroughly debunked by Contentions’ Alana Goodman in the latest issue of COMMENTARY. The lesson here is not so much the charge that Romney and the Republicans are attacking women’s rights is wrong as the way the story developed. It shows how quickly a weakness for the president — the way ObamaCare was being used to discriminate against the Catholic Church violated the principle of religious freedom — morphed into a disaster for the right simply because Rush Limbaugh made an offensive quip.

The willingness of a broad consensus of mainstream media outlets to accept the liberal spin of this fake issue should concentrate the minds of both the Romney people and conservatives on their dilemma. Allegations of liberal media bias don’t win elections, but successful counter-attacks against spin offensives will make the difference between victory and defeat for the Republicans. That was demonstrated by the subsequent ability of the conservative blogosphere to turn Obama adviser Hillary Rosen’s attack on Ann Romney into a defeat for the Democrats that had them on the defensive for days.

But a perhaps an even greater problem for Romney is the one that every challenger to a sitting president must learn to live with: the power of incumbency. Being the president as opposed to just running for the presidency carries with it the capacity to make decisions or to create events that can dominate news cycles and reduce even the savviest opposition candidate to a helpless bystander. The president’s trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday is a classic illustration of how even the most hapless of administrations can command the undivided attention of the public. The event, in which the president signed an agreement with the Afghan government, was a skillful way of bringing up the bin Laden killing anniversary without the sort of foolish attacks on Romney that undermined the administration’s obsessive focus on the episode in the last week. Instances of the use of the power of the presidency like this are virtually bulletproof. Nothing Romney could say or do could diminish the impact of the president’s largely unremarkable speech. And even if there were flaws in Obama’s handling of the issue, the bin Laden anniversary helped bring home to the GOP that this wasn’t the best moment to bring them up.

Of course, along with the advantages that come with incumbency are some drawbacks. Obama can play the commander-in-chief any time he wants but along with it comes a measure of accountability. Speeches in front of the troops in a military setting are always political winners. But that also means it is impossible to blame others when things go wrong. If, as appears likely, the virtually non-existent economic recovery continues to falter as gas prices rise this summer, no amount of presidential posturing will enable the president to shift the blame for the state of the nation from his own shoulders.

A pliant and even obsequious media and the power of incumbency should be a foolproof formula for an Obama victory. But they will be of little use if Romney and the GOP persuade Americans they must cut short a failed presidency.

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L’Affaire Grenell

This afternoon, a frenzy erupted when the incoming Romney campaign spokesman on foreign affairs, Richard Grenell, quit before he started. Grenell is openly gay, and a fierce advocate for his views on marriage. The Romney campaign claims it all but begged him not to quit, but Grenell was evidently rattled by attacks from the Right on his fitness for his post.

Among those attacking him was Matthew Franck of the Witherspoon Institute. Franck published his views on National Review Online, and they are nothing short of appalling. Franck says Grenell’s being gay should not disqualify him from working for Romney, nor should his support for same-sex marriage. But he reveals his disingenuousness when he writes this: “Grenell has made a particular crusade of the marriage issue, with a kind of unhinged devotion that suggests a man with questionable judgment. And when the Obama State Department is already moving to elevate the gay-rights agenda to a higher plane than religious freedom in the foreign policy of the United States, it is reasonable to wonder whether Grenell, after taking such a prominent place in the Romney campaign’s foreign-policy shop, would be in line for an influential State posting where he could pursue his passion for that same agenda.”

Actually, it is not at all reasonable.

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This afternoon, a frenzy erupted when the incoming Romney campaign spokesman on foreign affairs, Richard Grenell, quit before he started. Grenell is openly gay, and a fierce advocate for his views on marriage. The Romney campaign claims it all but begged him not to quit, but Grenell was evidently rattled by attacks from the Right on his fitness for his post.

Among those attacking him was Matthew Franck of the Witherspoon Institute. Franck published his views on National Review Online, and they are nothing short of appalling. Franck says Grenell’s being gay should not disqualify him from working for Romney, nor should his support for same-sex marriage. But he reveals his disingenuousness when he writes this: “Grenell has made a particular crusade of the marriage issue, with a kind of unhinged devotion that suggests a man with questionable judgment. And when the Obama State Department is already moving to elevate the gay-rights agenda to a higher plane than religious freedom in the foreign policy of the United States, it is reasonable to wonder whether Grenell, after taking such a prominent place in the Romney campaign’s foreign-policy shop, would be in line for an influential State posting where he could pursue his passion for that same agenda.”

Actually, it is not at all reasonable.

Put aside the preposterous non sequitur of Obama’s privileging gay rights over religious freedom, which has nothing to do with what Romney would do in office. Grenell might be in line for such a State Department posting or he might not. It is conceivable such a posting would somehow touch on gay issues, but it might not. The election is not for months. Romney has to win before there are posts to be filled. And assuming Romney won, Grenell’s views on any subject in the fantasy post Franck imagines would be secondary to the policy of the United States government Grenell would be tasked with carrying out. That is true of any political appointee in the president’s service.

To suggest Grenell would do otherwise is to do him—a man Franck does not know—an incredible disservice, and suggests bad faith on Franck’s part, not on Grenell’s. Franck does not wish a gay activist to serve in the Romney campaign or the U.S. government. Others like him don’t either. That is the true purpose of his opposition, and such disingenuousness should be called out and opposed.

I don’t know what kind of spokesman Grenell would have made for Romney—he got into immediate trouble for deleting hundreds of tweets over the past few years featuring intemperate though often witty remarks about liberals and Leftists, and evidently got a lot of reporters angry during his tenure as a press guy at the U.S. mission to the United Nations. But he wasn’t my hire, he was the Romney campaign’s, and they liked what they heard. I’m sure they checked with Grenell’s former boss, my friend John Bolton, whose conservative bona fides is irreproachable.

People are suggesting this will be bad for Romney because it will hurt him with the gay community. But the professional gay-rights movement and its leadership will already come after Romney in relation to his Mormon beliefs and the church’s role in the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which forbade gay marriage in the Golden State before a court overturned it. Those folks do not constitute a constituency that would ever support Romney.

The question is whether it will hurt Romney with others. Since it seems clear the Romney campaign did not push Grenell out but rather that Grenell decided he didn’t need the grief he was getting from Franck and others, it will be hard to charge the candidate with bigotry in this specific case. I imagine the same issues that will motivate people to vote for Romney rather than for Obama will be in play for homosexuals as well.

As for Franck and whoever else may have led Grenell to throw in the towel, they have perversely made it less likely they will be heard with favor by those who are working hard to oust the administration that Franck rightly says has been so hostile to religious freedom issues—an ouster Franck and his colleagues have made a tiny bit more difficult with their shenanigans, and shame on them for it.

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