In a typical week, Richard Grenell might have tweeted 100 times and started 100 arguments. Point the time machine back to April 10, the day that Rick Santorum suspended his presidential campaign. Grenell opened up the iPhone and sent 17 tweets. He accused MSNBC of bias.
WashPost poll shows Romney leading Obama on Who best to handle the Economy AND the Deficit. BUT @chucktodd leads with #'s on Women. #Blatant
He tweeted at a liberal blogger and a presidential candidate, goading them about President Obama’s campaign speech.
@markos @MittRomney: When @BarackObama is in FL today, ask him about the 850k Floridians out of work & 9.4% state unemployment rate
He retweeted a Romney fan with a strong opinion.
Love following @RichardGrenell. The man tells it like it is.
That was the old Richard Grenell—longtime communications director for a string of United Nations representatives and ambassadors. On Thursday, Mitt Romney’s campaign hired Grenell as a full-time spokesman on national security matters. His tweets took on world-historical importance. Politico’s Alexander Burns combed Grenell’s feed and found jokes about the Gingriches (“Newt: My 1st Lady knows what it’s like to be 2nd and 3rd…”) and Rachel Maddow (“Rachel Maddow commercials can't possibly attract any viewers, aside from Bieber fans #DeadRinger”). ThinkProgress ran its own report only five hours after sort of saluting Romney for hiring an openly gay spokesman.
By Sunday, when the Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone followed up, Grenell’s micro-blogging history had shrunk from 7,577 tweets to 6,759 tweets. This was a massacre—800-odd tweets slaughtered for the cause of Not Embarrassing Romney. Grenell’s personal site had been taken down, even though (according to WhoIs.net) he owns the domain name until 2020. The remaining on-message campaign talk was the only online evidence of Richard Grenell’s existence.
Grenell, post-purge, is weathering the attacks. He’s donned the hair shirt and apologized for “any hurt” caused by his 140-character barbs and crack-‘em-ups. The campaign, he says, has given him no directives about what to say. The personal website wasn’t very controversial, anyway. “Everything on there was published somewhere else and is available online,” he says.
But he hasn’t said much else. Since announcing the job and accepting some compliments, Grenell has only tweeted one opinion about politics—campaign guff about how the “election is about the president's record and 38 months of unemployment over 8%.” The ongoing conversation with reporters and bloggers has ended.
The reporters and bloggers aren’t missing him. Markos Moulitsas, the founder of DailyKos.com, says that Grenell used to “troll” him “several times a week over the past 6-12 months.”
“I maybe responded 2-3 times,” said Moulitsas. “He seemed [to be a] garden-variety conservative troll, except that he was a former Bush administration official.”
He might be a future Romney administration official, too. He could, depending on the makeup of the Senate, have to answer for his Twitter and Huffington Post column oeuvre. That’s really the point. Grenell’s job is safe, but we’re surely only weeks away from seeing some staffer at the Obama or Romney campaign apologize or self-terminate because he got too hot for Twitter.
Let’s all promise to go easy on him. Grenell’s deleted tweets reveal that he thinks Newt Gingrich’s campaign is/was risible and that he has insults ready when celebrities show up sloppy to the Grammys. At worst, they were unfunny experiments in ankle-biting. The tweets that survive, gathered by Uri Friedman, reveal that he has, basically, the views of his most famous former boss, John Bolton. “Why haven't politicos learned by now that you scrub your Twitter feed of all controversial content before you enter the political limelight?” asks Friedman. Why should they? Better question: Why should anyone want them to?
The best argument comes from Jonathan Rauch, a journalist who knows Grenell a little. Grenell’s problem reveals “what an embarrassing waste of time Twitter is. It's not a medium for adults—it practically begs you to be short, snarky, and stupid—and foreign-policy spokesman is a grown-up job.”
Sound advice: The spokesman who speaks best speaks least (and probably never on Twitter). The legendary practitioners of spokesmanism, like Mike Murphy or Ron Ziegler, put words in an order that make them basically useless for the purpose of information-gathering. When Grenell was raw, he was tweeting the sort of things Republicans actually think. April 17: “Does Obama do anything without a teleprompter?” April 6: “Samantha Power is all talk.” And March 27: “What I love about Twitter and Facebook is that it has outed reporters from their phony facade of pretend non-partisan commentary.”
It’s outed a lot of other people, too. Don’t delete it. Embrace it.