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Romney takes credit for Obama policy he condemned

Obama visits a Chrysler plant in Detroit.
Obama visits a Chrysler plant in Detroit.Associated Press

The Detroit Free Press' Tom Walsh recently noticed that Mitt Romney has taken so many contradictory positions on the Obama administration's auto-industry rescue, the Republican "must be on the verge of exhaustion from all the verbal contortions and mental gymnastics he puts himself through."

That was in February. The contortions are actually getting worse.

One of Mitt Romney's top advisers said Saturday that President Obama's decision to bailout Chrysler and General Motors was actually Romney's idea.

"[Romney's] position on the bailout was exactly what President Obama followed. I know it infuriates them to hear that," Eric Fehrnstrom, senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said. "The only economic success that President Obama has had is because he followed Mitt Romney's advice."

This isn't complicated -- Team Romney can condemn the Obama administration's policy or it can take credit for the Obama administration's policy, but it shouldn't try to do both. I know it infuriates them to hear that, but this is simply a matter of common sense -- Romney can't be for and against the same policy at the same time.

In this case, Romney has said, publicly and repeatedly, that he opposed Obama's industry rescue plan. The former governor said he preferred to "let Detroit go bankrupt," and have GM and Chrysler rely on private funding to restructure and get back on their feet.

Of course, in early 2009, the credit markets were frozen and there was no private funding available. (When a company called Bain Capital was approached, it refused to invest.) How does Romney reconcile his demands with reality? For the last three years, he hasn't even tried to explain the contradiction. In fact, he'd prefer if we just overlook the details altogether.

Just at face value, it takes a fair amount of chutzpah to face a crisis, get it wrong, then whine about the way in which the other guy got it right. But it takes truck loads worth of chutzpah to condemn the other guy then take credit for his success.

We can say a couple of things with certainty. First, when President Obama launched his ambitious policy in 2009, he was taking a major gamble -- not only with the backbone of American manufacturing, but with his presidency and its ability to use the power of government to repair a private industry facing collapse. As First Read noted at the time, "As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency."

We now know the gamble paid off. GM and Chrysler are making money, expanding American facilities, and operating at capacity. It's a remarkable success story and one of Obama's most important domestic accomplishments. Republicans were absolutely certain the White House's policy would fail, and they were wrong.

Second, we also know that if policymakers had followed Romney's advice, and waited for private financing, the American auto industry likely would have collapsed while waiting capital that didn't exist. An economy that was already on the brink would have been forced to absorb hundreds of thousands of unemployed auto workers, crushing already-struggling communities in the Midwest.

As of this weekend, the Romney campaign is effectively telling voters, "Wait, did we say we hate Obama's policy? What we meant to say was that we love Obama's policy because we came up with it. Never mind all that other stuff we said two months ago."

Even by Romney standards, this is ridiculous.