How Republicans should talk about the auto bailout

Ahead of last month’s Michigan presidential primary, the Obama campaign saw an opportunity to blast the Republican candidates on the auto bailout. And earlier this year, President Obama used his State of the Union address to charge that his unnamed opponents said we “should let [the auto industry] die.” It’s a harsh line of attack, and a potent one given many Republicans’ opposition to the auto bailout.

In order to refute this charge, my advice to Republicans is simple: Don’t concede an inch.

There’s a misconception that Republicans coldly told Detroit to go bankrupt. That’s completely untrue. Republicans were supportive of a restructuring. Today, the auto industry has improved in Michigan. Republicans and Democrats alike understood that the industry needed restructuring. But Obama taking credit for the auto turnaround offends the hard work of the employees of Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford for that matter.

The president was not the CEO of General Motors or Chrysler. He didn’t work on the line. He didn’t discuss changing the marketing or supply-chain. It’s offensive for Obama and his administration to take credit for all the hard work and all the difficult decisions people in the auto industry made. Autoworkers have their pride. 

In Michigan, one of the first ways people size someone up is by seeing whether he’s driving an American car. Talking up your car is a typical icebreaker in Michigan.

Interestingly enough, the economic issue Obama isn’t talking about is what’s really the signature legislative accomplishment of his administration—Obamacare. We recently marked the two-year anniversary of Obamacare being signed into law. But the president has been quiet as a church mouse on his signature economic initiative. His White House spokesman said the anniversary was one “only those who toil inside the Beltway focus on.”

It’s clear to see why the Obama administration is avoiding the topic. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll showed two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) supported the Supreme Court overturning the law or at the very least having the mandate overturned. As all sides ready for the Supreme Court’s decision to come down, Obama is in a lose-lose situation. Either the court overturns Obamacare because of its incompatibility with the Constitution or the justices uphold a law that two-thirds of Americans want to see changed.

Either way, Republican candidates would be wise to focus on the healthcare issue, while pointing out how little the president had to do with the renewed success of the auto industry.

Stu Sandler is the CEO of Decider Strategies, a public relations and political consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

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