Bogus Jeep-to-China ads by Romney draws fire from Obama in campaigns’ last gasp

That squib of a false story I wrote about Thursday claiming that Jeep was moving U.S. production to China grew a Hemi engine and raced off this weekend, after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney touted the story in a rally, then ran an ad in Ohio trumpeting the bogus claim. The backlash was strong enough for the Obama campaign to put out their own ad Monday calling it an outright lie. Tuesday, the chief executive of Chrysler even weighed in with his own rebuttal.

Before Romney even took the stage in Defiance, Ohio, to repeat the claim on Thursday night, Chrysler's public relations chief had released a blistering reply calling it an "unnecessary fantasy." That didn't deter Romney's team from running this ad over the weekend, telling reporters who called to ask how they could make such claims that it was technically true -- although Romney has never produced a plan for helping the auto industry:

"Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China," the narrator states. "Mitt Romney will fight for every American job."

Even by the standards of our post-factual political culture, that's a lot of bogus-ness for one sentence to carry. Romney's taken credit for the idea that GM and Chrysler should have gone bankrupt, and said he would have done it sooner -- although he's never explained how that might have worked, exactly. The Italian automaker Fiat was the only buyer interested in Chrysler, after its previous private equity owners at Cerberus Capital couldn't steer through the financial storm of 2008. And is building Jeeps in China worse than building Buicks, Chevys, Fords or any of the dozen of other Western car brands made in Chinese plants for Chinese buyers?

On Monday, the Obama campaign fired back, sensing a chance to attack Romney a week before the election in a state where most polls show the president with a slim, but shaky, lead:

And today, Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne -- the "Italians" mentioned by Romney -- sent a company letter to employees rebutting the idea as well. Marchionne noted that Jeep's factory workforce in the United States had grown from 4,700 in 2008 to 9,300. "I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China," Marchionne wrote.

That didn't stop Romney from releasing another radio ad in Ohio that not only repeats the Jeep claim, but drags General Motors into the fray as well. "Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are planning to double the number of cars built in China which means 15,000 more jobs for China," says the ad, repeating the claim that Romney "will stand up for the auto industry." Like the Jeep claim in the first ad, the words twist reality; GM does want to double production in China -- to 5 million vehicles, which would require at least 15,000 workers. But so are most other automakers; China now ranks as the world's largest market for new cars and trucks, and success there means building there.

Two things strike me about this squabble. By the accuracy standards of Romney's campaign, one could claim that it was George Romney's American Motors which was the first company to build Jeeps in China -- although Mitt Romney's father retired from American Motors two decades before it began bolting Cherokees together in Beijing in 1984.

Secondly: It may pain politicians to admit it, but there was no more divided call in the entire Detroit bailout than whether to rescue Chrysler or let it dissolve. Obama's own advisors were split 50-50, and no one inside the auto industry gave Chrysler much of a chance either. After two years of private equity ownership Chrysler's future had been frittered away, and the equity brains had tried to sell out to GM and any foreign partner they could find. On Monday, Chrysler reported its earnings rose 80 percent in the third quarter to $381 million; it's adding workers in Michigan and Ohio and propping up the troubled Fiat side of the partnership. As much as some may want to change history or twist the present, Obama was right to save Chrysler, and as these ads show nothing succeeds like success.

UPDATE: GM spokesman Greg Martin also responded to Romney's radio ad on Tuesday: "We've clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days. No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country."