During an interview with an Ohio TV station on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney ran a victory lap for the revival of the U.S. auto industry, saying "I'll take a lot of credit" for the comeback of General Motors and Chrysler. It's too bad for Romney that Al Gore invented the Internet so we could keep track of what actually happened.
The latest line to emerge from the Romney camp over the past few days goes like this: Mitt Romney said in 2008 the companies should go through bankruptcy. A few months later, President Barack Obama put Chrysler, then GM, into quickie bankruptcies. Therefore, it was Romney's idea Obama followed all along.
Here's the full quote from an interview with WEWS-TV:
My own view, by the way, was that the auto companies needed to go through bankruptcy before government help. And frankly, that's finally what the president did. He finally took them through bankruptcy. That was the right course I argued for from the very beginning. It was the UAW and the president that delayed the idea of bankruptcy. I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet. So I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry's come back.
This position buffs the facts as smooth as twelve coats of lacquer, but it only works if you've never heard much about how the bailouts happened or what Romney's said before. In 2008, in the depths of the crisis, Mitt Romney opposed government help for GM and Chrysler. "If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye," he famously wrote in the New York Times.
Three months ago, during the Michigan primary, Romney wrote another op-ed, with the key line: "The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better." This remains the fatal weakness in Romney's arguments: At the time of their bankruptcies, no one but the U.S. government had the money or stomach for the risks of saving Chrysler and GM. There was no course for survival but through the Obama administration -- and as much as Romney wants to put static around his previous comments, he can't escape the fact that Obama's decisions saved both companies.
Romney's line has already spurred a Twitter spoof, and Obama's campaign has ginned up its machine in response. Election year bring out the worst of both parties. Ahead of a speech in Lansing, Mich., today -- where Romney isn't expected to talk about the auto industry -- UAW President Bob King noted that industry has added more than 200,000 jobs in the last few years: "None of this would have happened if Romney had been the one making the decisions."
But the Obama administration has played with the facts around the bailout to its own political advantage as well. So let me note that at the depth of the crisis in 2008, people were willing to set politics aside to tackle the problems at hand. Several Republicans deserve some credit for GM and Chrysler's rescues, starting with former president George W. Bush, who actually lent the first $17.4 billion to GM and Chrysler, along with behind-the-scenes movers like former Commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez and former Michigan governor turned lobbyist John Engler, who twisted Republican arms on Capitol Hill for weeks. If anyone should feel shortchanged by Romney taking credit, it's them.