Mitt Romney offered a qualified apology for his behavior as a high school student, without specifically saying whether a report that he bullied a student thought by his classmates to be gay was accurate.
“Back in high school I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended by that I apologize,” Romney told FOX radio host Brian Kilmeade Thursday. “If I did stupid things, I’m afraid I’ve got to say sorry for it.”
Romney, 65, noted he graduated from high school nearly five decades ago, and said, “I’m quite a different guy now.” He admitted “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks in high school and some of them might have gone too far, and I apologize.”
Five classmates described to the Washington Post on record an incident in which Romney, then a high school senior, teased and ultimately assaulted a student, John Lauber. According to their account, Romney mocked the student’s long blond hair, recalling that he once said, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” before joining classmates in chasing him, pinning him to the ground and cutting his hair as Lauber screamed for help.
“I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual,” Romney told Kilmeade. “That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s.”
While other students who were involved told the Post they’ve been haunted by Lauber’s abuse decades after the fact, Romney told Kilmeade, “I don’t remember that incident.” One of Romney’s classmates told the Post he met Lauber years later and apologized for not stopping the bullying, prompting Lauber to respond that it was “horrible” and “something I have thought about a lot since then.” Lauber died in 2004.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Post that Romney had no recollection of the incidents in question, which she said “seem exaggerated,” and added that “Anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body.”
Democrats, who are currently trying to contrast Obama’s newly announced support for gay marriage with Romney’s outspoken objections to even civil unions, sent the story to reporters on Thursday morning.
“Just the qualities you want in someone who wants to be the leader of the free world,” Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said of the report on Twitter.
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Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.