Mitt Romney said Thursday that “back in high school I did some dumb things” but insisted that the prep school pranks chronicled in a news story were never intended to target gay students specifically.
“They talked about the fact that I played a lot of pranks in high school, and they described some that, boy, you just say to yourself, 'Back in high school,' you know, 'I did some dumb things.' If anyone was hurt by that or offended by that, obviously, I apologize. But overall, high school years were a long time ago,” Romney said on the “Kilmeade & Friends” radio program.
In that report, Romney's high school friends describe the incident as “vicious” and express regret over the alleged bullying.
The story was released a day after President Obama announced he personally favored gay marriage, and Democrats quickly seized on it in an effort to portray Romney as intolerant.
“It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor and the school's wrestling champion, told the Post. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.”
But Romney said Thursday he didn't remember the prank, and that fellow students' sexual orientation was not something he considered in high school.
“I don't remember that incident and I certainly don't believe I or — I can't speak for other people, of course — thought he was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from my mind back in the 1960s, so that was not the case. But as to pranks that were played back then ... I did stupid things, and I'm afraid I have to say sorry for it,” Romney said.
Romney is also depicted in the story as mocking a closeted gay student in class by yelling “atta’girl” when the student would speak up in class.
“I really can't remember that,” Romney said. “There are a lot of times in a boys' school where other boys do something and people say 'atta'girl.' But as this person indicated, he was closeted, I had no idea that he was gay and can't speak to that even today. But as to the teasing and the taunts that go on in high school, that’s a long time ago — for me it's 48 years ago. Again, if there’s anything I said that was offensive to anyone, I certainly am sorry for that, very deeply sorry about that. No harm intended.”
Romney went on to talk about how he had grown and changed once meeting his wife, Ann, and said he “became a very different person.”
“I'm a very different person than I was in high school. I'm glad I learned as much as I did during those high school years … but I can tell you I'm quite a different guy now,” Romney said.
Romney then attempted to pivot to the economy, arguing that a discussion of how to fix the ailing economy was more important than his high school "hijinks."
"I think at some point in this campaign we'll talk about things like the economy and energy, labor policy, Syria, Iran — I'm hoping at some point the mainstream media will get around to that," Romney said.
"I can tell you I know there will be a real effort on behalf of the president's people to talk about anything but the here and now," he continued. "But the here and now, the fact that you have 2 million people out of work or stopped looking for work, they're underemployed, this is the issue of the day. It's today's economy. There's going to be some who want to talk about high school, and it's like, well, if you really think that's important, be my guest."
But the interview quickly returned to the report as Romney continued to insist he was unaware that the targets of his pranks were gay.
"In both cases, they indicated the people involved didn't come out of the closet until years later, the idea that this was something that was known by me … is obviously absurd," Romney said. "I had no idea this person might have been gay. As the article points out, I participated in a lot of hijinks, pranks during high school and some may have gone too far, and for that I apologize."
Seeking to capitalize on the story, Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse tweeted that Romney “was intolerant in 1965, assaulting a presumed homosexual with scissors, and he’s intolerant today opposing civil unions and SSM,” referring to same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday, Romney discussed the president’s decision to publicly support same-sex marriage, saying he disagreed but understood the sensitivity of the subject.
“This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues, but I have the same views I've had since running for office,” Romney said.