Mitt Romney Was Right to Oppose Auto Bailouts

Romney is smart to count on voters' distaste for any more taxpayer-funded bailouts.

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Yesterday, Mitt Romney made his first campaign swing through Michigan for the 2012 cycle. Before he arrived, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm penned an opinion piece for Politico reminding voters of his famous 2008 New York Times op-ed entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” In it, Romney argued for a structured bankruptcy for the carmakers, rather than a government bailout. Granholm, in her piece this week, called on voters to “treat Romney the same way he treated the auto industry,” and added this:

That Romney is a native son of Michigan only makes his cold shoulder toward the auto industry in 2009, and his attempts to woo Detroit money today, even more shameful. His laissez-faire strategy toward our auto industry during its time of crisis was wrong from the start—and a clear indicator of the misguided leadership he would bring to the White House.

Whether Jennifer Granholm, Michigan Democrats, and the labor unions will succeed in turning voters against Romney remains to be seen. Steve Mitchell of Mitchell Research and Communications Inc. told the Detroit News that polling done at the time of the auto bailout showed Michigan voters nearly split on the issue, but Republicans were the most strongly opposed. That Republican support should help him in the Michigan primary—or caucus—once those same voters decide which one they’re going to have. (They’re nearly split on that, too.) [See a slide show of GOP 2012 contenders.]

What Granholm doesn’t acknowledge is that Mitt Romney is more than just a native son. Mitt Romney’s father George was, like Granholm, a former governor of Michigan. More importantly in this case, he was also the CEO of American Motors, later known as AMC. According to Romney’s New York Times obituary, AMC’s most popular products were the Rambler and the Midget, compact alternatives to the “gas guzzling dinosaurs” being offered by the Big Three, as Romney put it. George Romney frequently called on Congress to break up the Big Three—he was David to the Goliath of Ford, Chrysler, and GM. He actually returned part of his salary to the company when he thought his compensation was too excessive, due to stock prices that at one point went from $7 to $90. With union support, Romney was elected governor of Michigan, then was re-elected twice.

No wonder the Detroit News’s coverage of Mitt Romney’s campaign visit includes the story of a restaurant worker who jumped up on a lunch counter and broke into a rendition of the old Civil War tune, “When Romney Comes Marching Home Again.” George Romney was popular in Michigan, in part because he stood up to the Big Three. No wonder Mitt Romney was opposed to the bailouts. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

He told a local radio station this morning: "I think the way President Obama chose it was the wrong way. He wrote big checks and then he stepped into the bankruptcy process, put his fingers on the scale, and basically gave the shares to the UAW."

The good news is that the auto bailouts have been repaid and the carmakers seem to be back on their feet, but certainly Romney makes a good point about whether the government should ever be picking winners and losers. These days, voters—especially fiscally conservative independents—are not in the mood for any more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Romney is smart to count on that.

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