Giving the auto rescue center stage

Updated
 

When President Obama launched his rescue of the American auto industry in 2009, it was hard to imagine him running campaign ads on the policy three years later. The move was risky and widely unpopular, and it wasn’t at all clear that the rescue would work – the industry teetering on the brink of collapse might have failed anyway.

Now, however, we now know the policy was a success, and Obama’s re-election campaign plans to take full advantage of the president’s record. Today, Chicago unveiled this new television ad, hitting the Republican field – including Mr. “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” – for getting the policy wrong, and crediting Obama for getting it right.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, continues to struggle with the issue. The subject came up in last night’s debate, and here was his latest attempt to explain his position:

“These companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, just like airlines have, just like other industries have. Go through a managed bankruptcy and if they go through that managed bankruptcy and shed the excessive cost that’s been put on them by the UAW and by their own mismanagement, then if they need help coming out of bankruptcy, the government can provided guarantees and get them back on their feet. No way would we allow the auto industry in America to totally implode and disappear. That was my view. Go through bankruptcy. When that happens, then the market can help lift them out.”

When debate moderator John King noted concerns that “there was no private capital available” in the midst of a global financial crisis, Romney dodged the question.

It’s not surprising Romney was uncomfortable with the follow-up because, in reality, the lack of private capital is what makes his entire position on the auto rescue completely incoherent. Like it or not, either the government intervened in the market or the industry fell. Romney may want to pretend otherwise, but those were the choices.

As for the rest of Romney’s argument, Jonathan Cohn has a good piece that not only takes the misleading position apart in detail, but raises important questions about Romney’s broader judgment.

In the meantime, the former governor’s general incoherence on the issue appears to be a lingering problem for his candidacy. One of Romney’s top supporters in Michigan believes the presidential hopeful is wrong about the auto rescue, and conservative columnist Michael Gerson argued this week that Romney’s stance is based on “a conservatism that prefers ideology to reality.”

No wonder the Obama campaign is airing ads on the subject.

Giving the auto rescue center stage

Updated