On Tuesday, Chrysler paid back its $7.6 billion federal U.S. Treasury loan ahead of schedule, a year after General Motors paid back $6.7 billion. Since both automakers are making profits now, it's starting to look as if the Republican chorus against the bailouts in 2008 will haunt candidates in next year's elections. Only The Donald -- who sadly pulled his hat out of the ring recently -- is clean on this one. Which leaves just flip-flopping, changing the subject or going mute as options for the rest of the presumed field.
Going negative on the bailout seemed like a good idea at the time, particularly given that a December 2008 poll showed that 61 percent of American voters opposed it. Current frontrunner Mitt Romney probably felt he was on safe ground when he wrote in a 2008 New York Times op-ed:
If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won't go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.The mood has changed
By late 2010, only 46 percent of Americans thought bailing out the autos was a bad idea, and that number is falling even further now. Swing voters in the industrial Midwest are critical to the election, so being on record rooting for the auto companies to fail probably isn't the best political strategy.
Which leaves the Detroit-born Romney -- who, perhaps befitting his management-consultant background, hasn't shown much more loyalty to his home-town's namesake industry than he has to his Massachusetts healthcare plan -- contorting himself rather extravagantly. So in the Romneyverse, it turns out, Obama's bailout plan actually originated with... Mitt Romney! "Mitt Romney had the idea first," said a spokesman.
Romney might be better off changing the subject altogether, given that Americans don't seem particularly well informed about the bailout or its aftermath. He could take pointers from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who in 2008 said the GM bailout had "already failed" and added, "Bureaucrats managing companies does not work, politicians dominating the economy does not work."
That was then. Times have changed, and so has Gingrich's spiel. He told Sean Hannity May 11:
Left-wing policies don't work. If you look at the collapse of Detroit or the rise of Texas, and you say to yourself, "Which would you like better: the state that had the most job creation in America over the last ten years or a city which has collapsed?" I know, by talking with Governor Rick Perry and others, I know how to get the whole country to resemble Texas. President Obama knows how to get the whole country to resemble Detroit.Of course, you can duck the question altogether just by refusing to run. Last year, Obama helped lay the groundwork for a Midwestern general-election straetgy by going to neighboring Indiana, home turf of almost-candidate and adamant bailout refusenik Mitch Daniels. In hard-hit Kokomo, Obama touted the jobs saved across the region. Daniels, if he'd decided to run, would have needed some creative ways to address his on-the-record claim that throwing taxpayer dollars at the auto industry "won't make it work."
Avoiding the subject
Rising GOP star and likely presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was as much a TV star in 2008 as she is today, and she was everywhere back then opposing the bailout:
Bachmann was adamant. "I don't think it will work," she said on TV, adding on her congressional homepage:
I understand that our nation's auto companies are hurting, but the last thing these companies and our economy need is a multi-billion-dollar bailout that does nothing to reform the failing business model that put them in this position in the first place.Today, Bachmann is talking about everything but the auto bailout, and appears not have had a word to say, in public or on her website (where the "wasteful spending" tab mostly takes on earmarks).
Jon Huntsman, the dark horse ex-ambassador to China, also opposed the bailout, though less publicly than some of his colleagues. He's probably lucky that he was so low profile in 2008 that he didn't create much of a media impression, on this or any other issue. He does however, have to somehow erase the tapes that have him calling his former boss, President Obama, a "remarkable leader."