WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney's decision to appoint an openly gay man as his foreign policy spokesman has angered social conservatives, not surprisingly — but the Republican front-runner's new employee has also caused him trouble with another demographic he's trying to woo: women.
Richard Grenell's Twitter feed was recently rife with snide remarks about various female political figures, from Michelle Obama to Hillary Clinton and Callista Gingrich.
He's reportedly scrubbed more than 800 tweets in recent days, but they live on after being unearthed and archived by news outlets shortly after Romney announced his appointment.
"Hillary is starting to look like Madeleine Albright," Grenell tweeted recently about Secretary of State Clinton, comparing her to the first woman to hold the job after being appointed by Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
Other tweets took aim at the third wife of Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.
"Callista stands there like she is wife #1," Grenell wrote. Another tweet read: "Do you think Callista's hair snaps on?"
In a jab at the first lady, a fitness devotee, Grenell claimed Obama was "sweating on the East Room carpet" after working out. He also ridiculed her grammar after she made a speech in North Carolina.
Female celebrities were not immune from his barbs.
Rachel Maddow, a talk show host on MSNBC, is a "dead ringer for Justin Bieber," Grenell tweeted, and should "take a breath and wear a necklace."
As he watched the Golden Globes in January, Grenell had some indirect advice for unnamed older actresses: "Note to children: when your mom is a grandmother DO NOT let her wear backless dresses."
Grenell, a former spokesman for the U.S. at the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, has apologized for his remarks, saying they were meant to be humorous but acknowledged they could be interpreted as hurtful.
Maddow, for one, was having none of it.
On her show on Friday, she asked if the Romney campaign understood "that a long string of really nasty, sexist tweets about Callista Gingrich's appearance might be alienating to people who might otherwise consider voting for Mr. Romney."
It's an unexpected headache for Romney, who's trying to close the so-called gender gap with Barack Obama — recent polls suggested women favoured the president over the former Massachusetts governor by as many as 20 percentage points. Women make up almost 53 per cent of the American electorate.
Romney was already facing heat about Grenell from social conservatives. A top Republican anti-gay figure assailed Romney last week for hiring Grenell, who once lamented to a gay publication that he could not legally marry his partner.
Bryan Fischer of the Mississippi-based American Family Association described Grenell as an "out and loud gay," adding that Romney's appointment of him was a "message to the pro-family community" to "drop dead."
Fischer was still at it on Monday, tweeting that the Secret Service prostitution scandal proves Grenell poses a risk to Romney, apparently equating gay men with johns.
"Romney's gay hire would serve in his administration in national security," he tweeted. "You want to tell me there's no Secret Service-type risk here?"
Romney, however, stood firm against Fischer last fall in a speech at the so-called Values Voter Summit before the anti-gay crusader was himself set to take the stage.
"Our values ennoble the citizen and strengthen the nation. We should remember that decency and civility are values too," Romney told the conservative event in the U.S. capital.
"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."
There was no comment Monday from the Romney campaign on Grenell's scrubbed tweets.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Madeleine Albright was appointed U.S. secretary of state in the 1980s.