GOP Candidates Defend Romney's 'I Like Being Able to Fire People' Remark

Rick Perry turned it into a ringtone. Jon Huntsman invoked the word "unelectable."

After Mitt Romney saw a wave of backlash on Monday for remarking that he "like[s] being able to fire people," fellow Republican candidates came to his defense on primary day in New Hampshire.

Romney said those words while advocating for consumer choice in health insurance plans during remarks to the Nashua, N.H., Chamber of Commerce.

"I want individuals to have their own insurance," Romney said on Monday. "That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don't like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

"You know, if someone doesn't give me a good service that I need, I want to say I'm going to go get someone else to provide that service to me."

Some of Romney's top rivals now say his words have been taken out of context.

Ron Paul's campaign e-mailed a "Statement on Mitt Romney Misquote Abuse" to reporters on Tuesday: "Rather than run against Governor Romney on the issues of the day Santorum, Huntsman, and Gingrich have chosen to play along with the media elites and exploit a quote taken horribly out of context," national campaign Chairman Jesse Benton said.

Paul himself defended Romney in an interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl, who asked him about the former governor's comment.

"I don't think he said that. He wants to fire companies," Paul said. "Reorganization is a proper role for free enterprise. I think they're way overboard on saying he wants to fire people, he doesn't care."

Newt Gingrich, who has shifted his campaign to attack Romney's record, also came to Romney's defense.

"On his comment yesterday about 'I like firing people,' as soon as I saw the whole quote, I said that's not fair to take it out of context," Gingrich said. "He clearly was talking about the right to choose between service providers, you know, he wasn't talking about actually firing people, per se."

Even Rick Santorum, called out by Paul's campaign as a perpetrator of unfair Romney criticism, was reluctant to hit the former governor, even as he took a small jab at Romney on Tuesday.

"I'm not too sure that is a very good message to a lot of folks out there," Santorum  told ABC's Jake Tapper. But he also resisted the opportunity to join in the Romney-bashing too forcefully.

"In all candor, I think it was certainly an inarticulate way of phrasing what he wanted to phrase," Santorum said. "I'm not going to make a big issue of that. I understand what he meant, we all say things a little left-handedly.

"But, obviously, the way you say things left-handedly can provide some insights on how you actually see things," Santorum said.