After less than two weeks on the job, Richard Grenell resigned as the Romney campaign spokesperson on foreign policy, apparently because social conservative activists don't like gay people, and they told the Republican nominee that Grenell's sexual orientation was unacceptable.
The religious right isn't just gloating about the developments, some prominent voices in the movement are making the case that their power has grown considerably. The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer told his audience that Grenell's ouster was a "huge win" for social conservatives.
Note the sweeping nature of Fischer's boast: "Mitt Romney has been forced to say, 'Look, I overstepped my bounds here. I went outside the parameters here. I went off the reservation with this hire. The pro-family community has called me back to the table here. Called me back inside the borders of the reservation.'" In other words, in 2012, "the parameters" are being set by far-right extremists, not the Republican nominee.
The New York Times has some additional reporting on this today, noting that neither Romney nor his staff had a problem with Grenell's sexual orientation, but they nevertheless felt the need to keep him silent and on the sidelines, so as to satisfy the concerns of right-wing activists.
"It's not that the campaign cared whether Ric Grenell was gay," one Republican adviser told the Times. "They believed this was a nonissue. But they didn't want to confront the religious right."
And that's ultimately what this story is all about: cowardice.
Romney could have told (or at least a sent a signal) to the religious right that he'd pick his own aides, thank you very much, and that social conservatives weren't going to make staffing decisions for him. Or the campaign could have issued a firm statement defending Grenell in the face of criticism, making it clear the candidate and his team stood with their colleague.
But Romney didn't want a confrontation.
The larger pattern is hard to miss: Romney has opinions about gender-based pay disparities, but he doesn't want to take a stand on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act because he's afraid the right might get angry. He doesn't want to take a stand on the Violence Against Women Act or the Paycheck Fairness Act for the same reason.
Romney has opinions about gay rights, but he's afraid to state his position on North Carolina's anti-gay ballot measure, even when he's in North Carolina. He has opinions about civility and the public discourse, but he lacks the courage to criticize Rush Limbaugh or Ted Nugent. Romney has opinions on abortion rights, but he was afraid to say what he thought about the "personhood" amendment in Mississippi earlier this year. He has opinions about immigration policy, but he lacks the courage to explain in detail how he'd handle undocumented immigrants who are already living in the United States. He has opinions about the budget, but he's afraid to go into detail to explain how he'd pay for his agenda.
He even called for a Republican version of the DREAM Act, but when pressed for his position on Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) version, Romney wouldn't state a clear opinion on this, either.
Romney seems to live in constant fear that conservatives will get mad at him, and the result is a candidate who lacks the backbone and integrity to take firm stands.
In the grand scheme of things, I suspect most Americans won't know who Grenell is, will hear very little about his ouster, and the story won't have a lasting impact. The question to consider, though, is whether there's a cumulative effect to all of these incidents in which Romney shrinks when leadership opportunities arise.
The American electorate can tolerate quite a bit, but no one respects a coward.