WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney made a surprise appearance on Fox host Brian Kilmeade's radio show Thursday morning to respond to a lengthy Washington Post story on his time as a prep-school prankster and occasional bully of closeted gay students.
"They talk about the fact that I played a lot of pranks in high school," Romney said. "And they describe some that you just say to yourself, back in high school I just did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended by it, obviously I apologize."
“I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some might have gone too far and for that, I apologize," he added.
It's never quite clear whether a politician's high school years are fair game for political attacks. Romney suggested during the interview that the acts he was apologizing for were merely youthful indiscretions; the Post described him pinning a closeted gay classmate to the ground and cutting his long hair, for example. But with the story suggesting latent homophobia in an adolescent Romney and with President Barack Obama having endorsed same-sex marriage on Wednesday, the piece reverberated.
Still, Romney said he was "not going to be too concerned" about the item. He insisted that he grew up in a tolerant environment and that there was nothing about his pranks that were discriminatory towards gays.
"The people involved didn't come out of the closet until years later," he noted. "The idea that this is something that was known by me ... is obviously absurd. I had no idea that this person might have been gay."
“I don’t remember that incident and I’ll tell you I certainly don’t believe that I, I can’t speak for other people of course, thought the fellow was homosexual," he said earlier in the interview. "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 don’t remember them all, but again, high school days, if I did stupid things, why I’m afraid I got to say sorry for it.”
The idea that Romney, as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, holds the same mindset now as he did in his prep school days is, of course, absurd. People change, including Obama who had, until Wednesday, spent several years in public life opposing same-sex marriage.
But the Post piece still presents problems for the former Massachusetts governor, in part because of the brutish context it provides for his policy platforms. Earlier in the day, his campaign adviser Ed Gillespie said that Romney would be campaigning on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The night before, Romney himself grew testy with a reporter who asked him about his opposition to civil unions.
Clearly, social issues are posing a problem for Romney, and that was exemplified by the uncomfortable laughs that punctuated his responses as he discussed his behavior with Kilmeade.