Mitt Romney clarified Tuesday that he would have been fine with the government bailing out the auto industry, but only after the embattled companies had gone through managed bankruptcy.

"If they needed help coming out of bankruptcy and government support, that was fine, but I was not in favor of the government writing billions of dollars in checks prior to them going into bankruptcy," Romney said in an interview with the Detroit News.

The Republican presidential nominee has faced criticism for his stance on the auto bailout ever since he authored a famous New York Times op-ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" in 2008. His comments to the Detroit News aren't inconsistent with that column. Both then and now, he argued that the government was delaying the inevitable by propping up automakers before they restructured. That position has been widely disputed by those who oversaw the bailout, who insist that the automakers never would have made it to managed bankruptcy without federal support.

Yet Romney did not voice his support for a post-managed bankruptcy bailout in his Times op-ed, instead calling on the government to invest in research and technology and restructure tax incentives that favored foreign carmakers. Such a stance is unlikely to go over well with free-market conservatives, who view that type of government intervention as ideological heresy.

Romney, however, is trying to walk a tightrope, avoiding appearing insensitive to one of America's most revered industries while still brandishing his conservative credentials. Elsewhere in the interview, he reiterated his call for the Obama administration to sell the shares it still holds in GM at a massive loss.

"The president is delaying the sale of the shares to try and avoid the story that the taxpayer took another loss," he said. "I would get the company independent from government and run for the interests of the consumer and the enterprise and its workers -- not for the political considerations of government officials."

The Huffington Post reached out to the Detroit News for fuller quotes from the Romney interview. This post will be updated if they are received.

UPDATE: 10:45 a.m. -- A Romney campaign official noted that Romney, in his Times op-ed, voiced support for federal government guarantees of post-bankruptcy financing -- something similar to what he said in his Detroit News interview.

But the question still remains: What would Romney have done if there was no available financing for the government to guarantee? This, after all, is the problem Obama confronted and the one that convinced him of the need for the bailout. Romney's response to the Detroit News suggests that he would have supported a bailout even in the absence of such funding, though the wording is vague. The campaign did not immediately indicate whether or not that was the case.

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