In the final few days of the presidential contest, Mitt Romney evidently recognizes that his opposition to the federal rescue of General Motors and Chrysler is costing him voter support he needs in Ohio and Michigan. So the Republican nominee is conducting an exercise in deception about auto-industry issues that is remarkable even by the standards of his campaign.
At an appearance last week in Defiance, Mr. Romney announced that “Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.” That assertion was based on an ambiguously worded news report.
Chrysler, which owns Jeep and in which the Italian automaker Fiat has a majority stake, quickly denied the report. A company spokesman said Mr. Romney’s rhetorical leap “would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.” But the Romney campaign launched an ad in Ohio that claimed that President Obama, who presided over the auto bailout, “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.”
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne removed all doubt about his company’s intentions this week in an email to employees: “Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” he said. “Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand. It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.”
He acknowledged that Chrysler intends “to return Jeep production to China, the world’s largest auto market, in order to satisfy local market demand, which would not otherwise be accessible.” The company also wants to avoid heavy import duties. But that’s a long way from Mr. Romney’s insinuation that the automaker is shipping jobs from Toledo to China.
Mr. Marchionne noted that Chrysler is investing $500 million in its Toledo assembly complex and plans to add 1,100 jobs there by next year, largely to build a successor to the Jeep Liberty sport-utility vehicle. He vowed “that the iconic Wrangler nameplate, currently produced in our Toledo, Ohio, plant, will never see full production outside the United States.”
Regardless, a new radio ad for the Romney campaign that has gotten heavy play in Toledo asks whether the President bailed out the domestic auto industry for “Ohio — or China?” It asks: “What happened to the promises made to autoworkers in Toledo and throughout Ohio — the same hard-working men and women who were told that Obama’s auto bailout would help them?”
The new ad also assails the other bailed-out automaker by claiming that “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.” A GM spokesman told the Detroit Free Press that “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.”
Mr. Romney, who has changed positions on too many other issues to count, clings to his insistence that Mr. Obama should not have invested taxpayer money in helping Chrysler and GM emerge from a managed bankruptcy. He says he would have been willing to provide federal “guarantees” of private investment in the troubled automakers.
Steven Rattner, the President’s chief adviser on the auto bailout, told The Blade’s editorial page this week that “there was no private money” on offer during the depths of the Great Recession to preserve either car company. He added that Republican President George W. Bush “understood that” and launched the bailout process as a result.
Mr. Rattner noted that the bailout was politically unpopular at the time, and that there was no guarantee it would work. But he said the GM job cuts cited in the Romney ad occurred before the bailout, and since then the auto sector has been responsible for 20 percent of the nation’s job growth. Without it, he added, both automakers would have collapsed.
The subsequent success of both GM and Chrysler has made the federal rescue “a real win-win,” Mr. Rattner said. Polls suggest that voters, especially in Ohio and Michigan, agree.
Mr. Romney claims to have a “plan to help the auto industry,” which he does not detail. He plays up his Detroit roots, reminding voters that his father was not only a beloved governor of Michigan, but also the chief executive of a Detroit automaker.
But Mr. Romney’s own words make clear he is no friend of the auto industry, on which Ohio relies for one of every eight jobs. Voters in Ohio and Michigan — and the nation — need to remember that.