Mitt Romney is defending himself against accusations of insensitivity -- playing into the image of corporate raider -- after Romney said he wants the ability to get rid of insurance providers who don't live up to their promises rather than be forced into coverage under a federal mandate.
The clamor Monday revolved around his saying, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."
After a stream of attacks, Romney said the remark was deliberately taken out of context.
"I was talking about insurance companies. We like to be able to get rid of insurance companies that don't give us the service that we need," Romney said late Monday. "I do not want to live in a world where we have Obamacare telling us which insurance we have to have, which doctor we can have, which hospital we go to. I believe in a setting, as I described this morning, where people are able to choose their own doctor, choose their own insurance company. If they do not like their insurance company or their provider, they can get rid of them. That is the way America works.
"I know free enterprise is on trial and we have a president who really does not believe in the rights of people to do that, but I believe in the right of people to get rid of an insurance company," Romney added.
Romney's earlier comments made at a campaign stop in Nashua, N.H., came after he fielded a question from the audience about health care.
"I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don't like what they do, you can fire them," Romney said. "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn't give me the good service I need I want to say, 'You know, I'm going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.' So, that's one thing I would change."
But the comment played into previous criticism by Democrats that Romney, as head of a Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm, is an out-of-touch and uncaring corporate raider.
After his Nashua remarks, some of his Republican primary contenders also pounced on the former Massachusetts governor for his business record.
"If you're a victim of Bain Capital's downsizing, it is the ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain because he caused it, " Rick Perry said while campaigning in South Carolina. "There is something inherently wrong when getting rich off failure and sticking it to someone else is how you do your business. I happen to think that that is indefensible."
Perry's campaign also made Romney's "fire" line into a ringtone that Perry supporters can download from their website.
"Governor Romney enjoys firing people, I enjoy creating jobs," said former Utah governor Jon Huntsman in Concord, N.H. "It may be that he's slightly out of touch with the economic reality playing out in America, and that's a dangerous place for someone to be."
A pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC said Monday that it plans to spend $3.4 million on ads, including a 27 minute movie in South Carolina that will hit Romney for his time at Bain. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a longtime Gingrich supporter, gave $5 million to the super PAC, Fox News confirmed.
"It's puzzling to see Speaker Gingrich and his supporters continue their attacks on free enterprise. This is the type of criticism we've come to expect from President Obama and his left-wing allies at Moveon.org," Andrea Saul, a Romney spokesperson, said in an email. "Unlike President Obama and Speaker Gingrich, Mitt Romney spent his career in business and knows what it will take to turn around our nation's bad economy."