The purpose of Mr Romney's [latest] op-ed is to clarify his position on the auto bail-out ahead of Michigan's primary on February 28th. And the piece rivals Cirque du Soleil in its display of contortions. Mr Romney seems loth to gush about the success of the bail-out, noting only the good news that "Chrysler and General Motors are still in business". He certainly doesn't mention that 2011 was the best year for America's carmakers since the financial crisis, with each of the big three turning a solid profit. But he does imply that this achievement is a result of his own advice. "The course I recommended was eventually followed", Mr Romney writes.
...But the course Mr Romney recommended in 2008 began with the government stepping back, and it is unlikely things would've turned out so well had this happened. [Emphasis added.]
Free-marketeers that we are, The Economist agreed with Mr Romney at the time. But we later apologised for that position. "Had the government not stepped in, GM might have restructured under normal bankruptcy procedures, without putting public money at risk", we said. But "given the panic that gripped private purse-strings...it is more likely that GM would have been liquidated, sending a cascade of destruction through the supply chain on which its rivals, too, depended." Even Ford, which avoided bankruptcy, feared the industry would collapse if GM went down. At the time that seemed like a real possibility. The credit markets were bone-dry, making the privately financed bankruptcy that Mr Romney favoured improbable. He conveniently ignores this bit of history in claiming to have been right all along.
Haw! Then The Economist sticks the final knife in, reminding us of the key line in Willard's 2008 op-ed:
"If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye." That's a difficult statement to walk back.
Yeah, I would guess so, too.