Mitt Romney has earned a well-deserved reputation for taking both sides of several dozen issues. As a rule, however, the Republican presidential hopeful tries to take these positions one at a time.
Romney's position on President Obama's rescue of the American automotive industry is a little more complicated. On the one hand, Romney wants to take credit for the policy, since he suggested managed bankruptcy. On the other hand, Romney wants to condemn the same policy, at the same time, since Obama used public funds to keep the industry's head above water during the restructuring process.
The Detroit Free Press' Tom Walsh, who talked to Romney about this the other day, noted the former governor "must be exhausted from trying to twist the facts into a narrative that sounds (a) like he's happy for Detroit auto workers who still have jobs and are sharing in profits; (b) yet also virulently anti-Obama and anti-labor-union."
It's this same twisting that leaves Romney saying strange things.
Romney insisted ... he would have steered the companies into managed bankruptcy -- but with loan and warranty guarantees, not tens of billions of dollars in bailout cash.
And who would have made the big loans that Romney would have federally guaranteed? The private credit markets were frozen in the financial panic of late 2008 and early 2009, leading many experts to conclude that no private lender would have stepped up to finance bankruptcies as huge and risky as those of GM and Chrysler.
When I pressed Romney on this point, he insisted that if the U.S. Treasury issued bonds or guarantees, plenty of private lenders would have surfaced.
No serious person believes this, not even those who used to agree with him on the issue. Does Romney even remember the crash and near collapse of the global financial system? It's why a Chrysler executive responded last year to Romney's position by suggesting he's "smoking illegal material."
On CBS News last night, General Motors Chairman and CEO Daniel Akerson wasn't quite that colorful, but when asked about Romney's argument, Akerson responded, "I think you could have written off this company, this industry, and this country" with such an approach.
Mike Jackson, chairman and CEO of AutoNation, added that Romney's argument is "reckless, detached from reality, and dishonest."
Democrats, meanwhile, now see this as a key vulnerability for Romney -- and not just in Michigan -- which they can continue to exploit this election year. The DNC released this two-minute video yesterday: