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Paul Ryan Campaign Defends Much-Ridiculed GM Plant Closing Remarks

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Paul Ryan's Republican convention speech references to a GM plant in Wisconsin have provoked a clash between fact-checkers and conservative media.
Paul Ryan's Republican convention speech references to a GM plant in Wisconsin have provoked a clash between fact-checkers and conservative media.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Paul Ryan campaign is pushing back against charges that the vice presidential candidate blatantly misled viewers during his acceptance speech, when he blamed President Barack Obama for a GM plant plant closure that took place while George W. Bush was president. The thrust of the Ryan argument is that whenever the plant may have closed, it has yet to re-open under Obama, and is therefore a symbol of a failed recovery.

"It’s President Obama who needs to explain his words," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, in an email to HuffPost. "The facts are clear: when the GM plant went on standby, the president told the people of Wisconsin he would ‘lead an effort to retool’ it and restart production. But when the bailout’s winners and losers were decided, Janesville ended up losing. The people of Wisconsin, like so many Americans, are still waiting for the president’s imaginary recovery.”

Buck was referring to an October 2008 Associated Press article, which quotes candidate Obama saying that if he's elected, he will "lead an effort to retool plants like the GM facility." That's different, of course, than saying he'd retool the plant itself, which made SUVs, but it adds context to Ryan's argument.

Ryan's speech has led conservative media outlets to clash with mainstream fact-checkers, who have debunked Ryan's claim by noting that the plant didn't fully wind down until Obama was president in April 2009, when the final 57 workers were laid off.

Ryan's campaign, notably, is not reaching for that technicality to defend his claim, and instead is making the broader point that the closing date is less important than the fact it has not re-opened.

Ryan, during his acceptance speech, referenced Obama's speech in Janesville in February 2008.

“I know that General Motors received some bad news yesterday, and I know how hard your governor has fought to keep jobs in this plant. But I also know how much progress you’ve made -- how many hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles you’re churning out," Obama said. “And I believe that if our government is there to support you and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another 100 years.”

As Ryan put it: "A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that's how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."

Government support for the plant, however, was a big if -- and it wasn't an if that came through for the plant under the Bush administration. Romney, meanwhile, opposed the auto bailout, which puts the campaign in the awkward spot of criticizing Obama for not intervening enough in the private sector with government bailouts.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent on Thursday interviewed a Ryan-supporting Wisconsin businessman, who argued that the plant may have been unsalvageable, even with significant government support.

"This morning, I spoke to a leading business official in Janesville, Wisconsin, who was at the center of efforts to save the GM plant -- one who supports Paul Ryan -- and he offered a nuanced version of the history that strains simplistic interpretations," Sargent reported. "The official, John Beckord, who heads the pro-business group Forward Janesville, makes two key points. First, that the market for the GM product in question collapsed much faster than anyone expected it would at the time of Obama’s speech. Second, that there is no telling whether the plant would have reopened, even if the economy had recovered faster."

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn asked if it was the most dishonest convention speech" ever. New York magazine's Dan Amira described it shortly before midnight as "appallingly disingenuous and shamelessly hypocritical," with his colleague Jonathan Chait -- who claims to have "the equivalent of a master’s degree in Ryan lie-ology" -- later calling out the Republican candidate for "brazen dishonesty."

The New Yorker's Atul Gawande tweeted that "Ryan's outright, unflinching dishonesty on Medicare, GM, Simpson-Bowles, among others is revelatory -- a total discarding of pretense."

Also on The Huffington Post

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