Mitt Romney's campaign on Friday promoted a USA Today op-ed published online by Hal Sperlich, the former president of Chrysler Corporation, endorsing the Republican presidential nominee's candidacy.
The op-ed shows the degree to which Romney has been caught in a crosscurrent between his economic philosophy and swing state politics.
Sperlich accurately describes Romney's approach to making U.S. businesses more competitive: reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, move to a territorial tax system so companies have more reason to locate their headquarters in the U.S. and to bring foreign profits back home, and streamline regulations.
Then Sperlich explains how Romney would approach the auto industry:
Every car company on the planet needs to focus on the market to try to best serve its customers. It needs the best products, the highest quality and the most competitive costs, and should go to whatever markets it chooses to serve. But here is where the politicians come in. What they can do is feverishly participate in a global competition among countries to make our country the most attractive location for production, thus bringing the best jobs to our people.
That is most likely accurate. But it's been contradicted by the Romney campaign's argument against Chrysler building Jeeps in China rather than in the U.S.
"Chrysler has the option of serving the Chinese market. They could do it in any number of ways. I think one of those ways is to increase production here in the U.S. And instead they chose to increase production in China," a Romney adviser told The Huffington Post this week. "The idea that even if they're adding, say 200 jobs here in the U.S., and adding, you know, 200 jobs in China, doesn't mean that they wouldn't be adding 400 jobs in the U.S. if they weren't adding those 200 in China."
Chrysler wants to produce Jeeps in China because to build them in the U.S. and ship them there is far less profitable as the Chinese levy stiff tariffs on imported vehicles.
And so to produce the Jeeps in China makes good business sense.
"Governor Romney understands this," Sperlich writes.
But Romney and his campaign also understand that China is the bogeyman for many blue collar voters in key swing states like Ohio, where manufacturing job losses have a tendency to be blamed on the biggest, easiest target. Sometimes, Chinese currency manipulation and cheaper labor is to blame, and sometimes it's not. But politicians know that if they blame things on China, it has a strong appeal to key swing state voters.
This is why President Barack Obama's campaign hit Romney over the summer for being an "outsourcing pioneer," because companies that Romney's private equity firm Bain Capital invested in created jobs in China.
Yet the Romney campaign's adoption of the line that Chrysler should produce Jeeps for the Chinese market in the U.S. suggests a level of government influence over private sector business that runs counter to conservative free market economics. And in addition, it contradicts good business sense.
So while Sperlich probably means to hit Obama by criticizing "small ball debates that have been going on lately about the auto industry," he also implicates Romney in the matter.
Romney doesn't have the hypocrisy lane all to himself. Obama attacked private equity for much of the summer, but took more private equity donations than any other candidate in 2008 and held fundraisers with them again in 2012. And the guys who helped Obama fashion the auto bailout, like Steven Rattner, were private equity heavyweights.
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2012 -- Mitt Romney
Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, speaks at the podium as he concedes the presidency on November 7, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)
2008 -- John McCain
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gestures to his supporters, while his wife, Cindy looks on during his concession speech at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
2004 -- John Kerry
Former Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) stands on stage with his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry after delivering his concession speech at Faneuil Hall on November 3, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
2000 -- Al Gore
Democratic presidental candidate Al Gore leaves the voting booth after casting his vote at Forks River Elementry School in Elmwood, Tennessee on November 7, 2000. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
1996 -- Bob Dole
Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole lowers his head while making his concession speech to supporters at a Washington hotel, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1996. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
1992 -- George H.W. Bush
U.S. President George Bush concedes the election on Nov. 3, 1992 after losing to President-elect Bill Clinton. (BOB DAEMMRICH/AFP/Getty Images)
1992 -- Ross Perot
U.S. independent presidential candidate Ross Perot delivers his concession speech on November 3, 1992 after Democrat Bill Clinton won the presidential election. (Photo credit should read PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
1988 -- Michael Dukakis
Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis wipes his upper lip during the first presidential debate with his opponent U.S. Vice President George Bush in Winston-Salem, N.C. on Sept. 25, 1988. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)
1984 -- Walter Mondale
Defeated presidential hopeful Walter Mondale addresses supporters at night, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 1984 at the St. Paul Civic center, conceding to President Reagan. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
1980 -- Jimmy Carter
U.S. President Jimmy Carter concedes defeat in the presidential election as he addresses a group of Carter-Mondale supporters in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1980. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
1976 -- Gerald Ford
President Gerald Ford speaks in the White House Press Room in Washington on November 3, 1976, conceding defeat to Jimmy Carter. (AP photo/ stf)
1972 -- George McGovern
Sen. George McGovern and his family in Sioux Falls, election night, Nov. 7, 1972 after he was defeated by Richard Nixon, and conceding the election. (AP Photo)
1968 -- Hubert H. Humphrey
Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey spaks at the Alfred E. Smith memorial dinner in Waldorf Astoria on Oct. 16, 1968 in New York. (AP Photo/John Lent)
1964 -- Barry Goldwater
A contact sheet of Republican senator Barry Morris Goldwater of Arizona concedes the 1964 presidential election to President Lyndon Johnson at a press conference held at his campaign headquarters at the Camelback Inn, Phoenix, Arizona, on November 4, 1964. (Photo by Washington Bureau/Getty Images)
1960 -- Richard Nixon
Vice President Nixon points to home-made sign at airport as he arrives in home state to cast his ballot on Nov. 8, 1960 in Ontario, California. (AP Photo)
1956 -- Adlai Stevenson
Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts talks with Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson on August 12, 1956 in Chicago. (AP Photo)
1952 -- Adlai Stevenson
Movie Actress Piper Laurie (left) is wearing a donkey head beauty spot on her cheek as she chats with Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, Democratic presidential nominee in Portland on Sept. 8, 1952. (AP Photo)
1948 -- Thomas Dewey
Dewey ran as the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the elections of 1944 and 1948. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
1944, 1948 -- Thomas Dewey
Thomas Dewey (1902 - 1971) Governor of the State of New York broadcasting over the 'Crusade of Freedom' radio. Dewey was the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the elections of 1944 and 1948. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
1940 -- Wendell Wilkie
Wendell Willkie, rehearses a report to the nation at a New York City radio station on Oct. 26, 1942. Willkie was President Roosevelt's personal representative, and his Republican opponent in the 1940 presidential elections. (AP Photo/Murray Becker)
1936 -- Alf Landon
Gov. Alf M. Landon, G.O.P. presidential nominee, voting in Independence, Kansas on Nov. 3, 1936. (AP Photo)
1932 -- Herbert Hoover
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1928 -- Alfred E. Smith
Governor Alfred E. Smith speaks in New York on Nov. 2, 1928. (AP Photo)
1924 -- John W. Davis
John W. Davis, Democratic nominee for President of the U.S., and his wife, are pictured on the estate of Charles Dana Gibson at Seven Hundred Acre Island in Dark Harbor, Maine on July 21, 1924. (AP Photo)
1920 -- James M. Cox
Democratic candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency of the United States, Governor James M Cox and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) are seen at the head of a nomination parade in Dayton, Ohio on Nov. 1, 1920. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
1916 -- Charles Evans Hughes
1912 -- Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt during the progressive campaign of 1912. (AP Photo)