Does it matter if Mitt Romney was a bully in high school?

When Mitt Romney was a senior at suburban Detroit’s Cranbrook school, he led a 'posse' that forcibly cut the long blond hair of a nonconformist junior, according to a Washington Post report.

Carlos Osorio/AP
In this Tuesday, May 8, photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Lansing, Michigan.

Does it matter if Mitt Romney misbehaved in high school? That question arises due to a report in Thursday’s Washington Post that when he was a senior at suburban Detroit’s Cranbrook school, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee led a “posse” that held down and forcibly cut the long blond hair of a nonconformist junior.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Mitt said at the time, according to fellow student Matthew Friedemann, quoted in the Post.

Mr. Romney himself said Thursday that he cannot remember the incident. The longhaired student in question, John Lauber, is now deceased. But Romney gave some legs to the story by apologizing repeatedly for any pranks he may have pulled in high school that hurt or offended his fellows.

“As to pranks that were played back then, I don’t remember them all. But again, high school days – if I did stupid things, I’m afraid I've got to say sorry for it,” said Romney in an interview on Fox News Radio.

Romney’s opponents say they are torn by the relevance of an alleged incident that would have occurred some 50 years ago. But they forge ahead nonetheless, saying that if true, the forcible haircut could provide some insight into the character of a man who wants to sit in the Oval Office.

“Romney was 18 – old enough to vote, old enough to serve in the military, and old enough to know not to attack a vulnerable teenager unprovoked,” wrote Steve Benen on Thursday on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC blog.

Even some liberals who believe the incident too old to be relevant say it’s fair game for the press. Romney shouldn’t be surprised that the media remain interested in what happened during his time at a school so upper crust it looks like Hogwarts – if Hogwarts were designed by world-famous architect Eliel Saarinen.

“Every aspect of [Romney’s] life is going to get picked over. It comes with the territory. It’s a deeply reported piece. In journalistic terms, the story is totally legit,” notes liberal Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent at The Plum Line on Thursday.

Romney supporters, on the other hand, were furious, saying that 90 percent of voters will agree that the ex-governor’s prep-school actions aren’t relevant today. The Post story is a subtle attempt to shape Romney as a gay basher at a moment when President Obama has come out in favor of same-sex marriage, they add.

“When long investigative pieces on Obama’s last three years (i.e. his presidency) start appearing on the front pages of newspapers, maybe the press has justification for going back decades to explore his opponent’s childhood,” writes conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin at Right Turn.

Others on the right go even further. At RedState, editor Erick Erickson said the Post story is “just silly.” He questions the truth of incident, saying that the alleged victim never mentioned the haircut to his family, among other things.

“After four years of ignoring Barack Obama’s bullying of religious groups and others from inside the White House, it’s fair game to go after Mitt Romney as a supposed high school bully,” Mr. Erickson writes on Thursday.

Should this story matter today? Does it slightly alter the image of Romney that biographers have been piecing together, as David Weigel asserts in Slate?

Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.

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