Boston Globe: Mixed message on Detroit
Globe Columnist / June 19, 2011
THE NEW Mitt Romney is not a flip-flopper. That’s the campaign story he’s pitching for 2012.
But the selling of this presidential candidate as a man of conviction runs into trouble in Michigan — the presidential battleground state where he was born and where the Romney name is as big as the Kennedy name in Massachusetts. It all goes back to what he has said about the auto industry bailout.
In the run-up to Michigan’s GOP primary in January 2008, Romney blasted rival John McCain as a pessimist who stood by and did nothing as the auto industry imploded. “Where is Washington?’’ Romney lamented. His pledge to fight for Detroit helped Romney beat McCain in that contest, although McCain ultimately became the GOP nominee.
After Democrat Barack Obama won the White House, Romney started blasting Washington for standing ready to assist a beleaguered Motor City. “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt’’ was the infamous headline over Romney’s op-ed on Nov. 19, 2008, in The New York Times. A close re-reading showcases his penchant for staking out many positions.
“Detroit needs a turn-around, not a check,’’ Romney begins. But then, as he calls for new labor agreements and new management, he also notes, “It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition.’’ Finally, he recommends “a managed bankruptcy’’ with the federal government providing guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing.
Detroit did not get the blank check it preferred. But instead of praising President Obama for holding the line, Romney continued as chief critic. Writing for the National Review on April 29, 2009, he said that the General Motors proposal that addressed the Obama administration’s concerns and became the foundation for the ultimate agreement was “even worse than bankruptcy — it would make GM the living dead.’’
Now former Democratic Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is urging Michigan voters to treat Romney “in the same way he treated the auto industry.’’ At the end of 2008, “no bank was lending,’’ Granholm wrote recently in Politico.com. Government help was the only way out for the auto industry. Any bankruptcy scenario envisioning a private lender was essentially a mirage, Granholm said during a recent visit to The Globe.
In Michigan recently, Romney responded to Granholm by calling her “a failed governor trying to defend a failed president.’’ To which she responded during her Globe visit: “I wasn’t too nice to him, either.’’
The resurgence of the auto industry is an Obama success story that Romney has trouble fitting into his mixed messages. He still takes multiple sides in the argument. Sometimes he insists that Obama was only following his advice. At the same time, he accuses Obama of “propping up’’ the auto companies. During last week’s CNN-sponsored debate, Romney also said, “The bailout program was not a success because the bailout program wasted a lot of money.’’
It’s not surprising that during his recent campaign trip to Michigan, this native son was met with jeers from Democrats and union protesters, according to the Detroit Free Press.
As Granholm sees it, “The Obama administration’s effort to save the auto industry has been a huge success story.’’ But is Michigan “a slam dunk’’ for Democrats? “No,’’ she said. While Michigan residents “are really grateful’’ for the auto industry bailout, the unemployment rate is still above 10 percent. “People are still hurting,’’ said Granholm.
That is Romney’s opening. Trying to blunt criticism about his confusing bailout positions, the Romney campaign put out information about Michigan’s still-unhappy economic situation. Post-Obama, Michigan has lost approximately 36,900 jobs; in April of 2011, Michigan lost 10,200 jobs, the largest decline of any state, according to the Romney campaign.
Those are not good numbers.
If they stay that way and Romney is the Republican presidential nominee, he will try to use them to make Michigan voters forget that first, he criticized McCain for doing nothing. Then, he criticized Obama for doing something.
It’s classic Romney — in favor of something and nothing and on the side of everything.