02/22/2012 04:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Halftime for Romney

Hell might be getting ready to freeze over. Nate Silver, the New York Times' resident nerdistician, has calculated that there is a 77% chance that Mitt Romney could lose the Michigan primary. This is the same Michigan where Mitt was born. The same Michigan where his father served as governor. Romney losing Michigan would be like a Bush losing in Texas or a Kennedy losing in Massachusetts.

If Rick Santorum pulls off the upset, it'll be the biggest victory for the sweater-vest set since Jim Tressel's Buckeyes went 8-1 against the Wolverines. But unlike the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry, the winner won't benefit since everyone knows that Santorum winning the Republican nomination would be a bigger miracle than anything described in the Book of Mormon.

What will consume the political-industrial complex will be reverse engineering how Mitt Romney lost after pleading in an ad, "Michigan has been my home, and this is personal." Because those other states are so impersonal. Feel the love, Arizona.

The hilarious thing about the ad is how Romney has to resort to reminiscing about how he went "to the Detroit Auto Show with my dad" while driving a Chrysler 300 built in Canada. Romney's video valentine to chrome, fins and V8 engines is a telling gambit for a politician desperate to convince Michigan voters that he was once one of them, too.

Romney's paying for his idiotic opposition to Barack Obama's rescue of the American auto industry. Shortly after Obama's election, Romney penned an op-ed in the New York Times in which Romney predicted that if Obama bailed out the car makers, their "demise will be virtually guaranteed." Thank goodness he included "virtually." The op-ed is best known today not for that wildly incorrect prediction but for the headline some heroic copy editor gave the column: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Even if he didn't write it, the headline perfectly captures the je ne sais quoi of Romney's rich-get-richer Mittocracy.


By now, the facts are clear. If Obama hadn't bailed out Chrysler and General Motors, America would have had to strip Michigan down and sell it for parts to Canada. It doesn't matter that the Chrysler that Romney drove in his ad was made in Canada. It matters that it wouldn't exist if he were president. Had Chrysler and GM failed, they would have taken the auto maker supply chain down with it and cost the country 1.1 million jobs.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally said that even though his company did not take government funds, "if GM and Chrysler would have gone into freefall bankruptcy, they would have taken the supply base down and taken the industry down plus maybe turned the U.S. recession into a depression."

Instead of doing what Romney wanted and letting the invisible hand slap the auto  industry around, Obama stepped in. He invested $8.5 billion of your money but required big changes, and last year he announced that the auto makers paid back the loan five years early and returned $11.2 billion to the taxpayers -- and everyone in Michigan knows it because they still make cars there.

There is no doubt in Detroit that the auto bailout worked. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said that anyone who claims the company could have made it without Obama's help is "smoking illegal material."
Politically, this means that Romney has to figure out how to explain that he didn't really write what he really wrote when he opposed helping the auto industry.
"Whether you're a Republican, Democrat, or Independent in Michigan, you're likely for auto jobs first. When the industry hit tough times, Mitt Romney said four words: 'Let them go bankrupt.' An auto collapse would have been Armageddon for Michigan, and his position feels a bit traitorous to everyone around this parts," said Jill Alper, a Michigan-based Democratic consultant.

Obama's auto bailout is why Chrysler still exists. It's also why Chrysler had enough cash to air the "Halftime in America" ad during the Super Bowl that featured Clint Eastwood growling about Motor City's comeback. Clint might as well have been telling Mitt to get off his lawn.

Dirty Harry linking Obama's economic policies with America's gutsy comeback might have cost Romney the Michigan primary as well as a chance to turn the state red in November. Republicans, reacting with their usual grace and charm, responded to the Chrysler ad by doubling down on stupid. Karl Rove told Fox News, "I was, frankly, offended by it." I suppose this makes Rove the anti-Chrysler.

The problem for Romney, Rove and everyone else in the Republican Party is that the auto bailout worked. Romney might be able to sell his nursery rhyme of creeping socialism elsewhere, but in Michigan, majorities of voters support the auto bailout and like Clint Eastwood's Chrysler ad. Romney's narrative depends upon people believing that Obama's policies hurt America, but now he has to make people doubt Clint Eastwood when he brags, "The world's gonna hear the roar of our engines."

The economy's getting better. Hundreds of thousands of people are going back to work every month. Detroit still makes cars. When Americans and Michiganers in particular are taking pride in their comeback, maybe we shouldn't be asking whether we are better off than we were four years ago.

Maybe it's time for Mitt to ask himself one question: Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?