Romney's Muddy and Muddled Message in Michigan


The Michigan primary is still almost two weeks away but the mudslinging has already begun – literally. Hoping to maintain his recent lead in the polls, Rick Santorum has launched a pre-emptive attack ad against Mitt Romney, depicting the Michigan native as a bumbling Rambo who, in the process of shooting mud balls from an assault weapon at Santroum, ends up soiling himself.

Romney is certainly no stranger to negative ads but for now he is trying to regain his home advantage by emphasizing his Michigan roots—never mind that he has lived in five states since he left Michigan and his primary home now is listed outside of Boston. He is airing a new ad called "Growing Up," which shows him driving through Detroit's abandoned neighborhoods while reminiscing about life in Detroit when he lived there. He concludes by saying: "I want to make Michigan stronger and better. Michigan's been my home, and this is personal."

At the same time that Romney is emphasizing his Michigan roots, he is hanging tough to his opposition to the auto bailout, even calling it "crony capitalism on a grand scale" in a column this week in The Detroit News. I appreciate that Romney is trying to borrow a page from Ron Paul's book, but it is completely unclear to me why the bailout is an example of "crony capitalism." Last time I checked, the providers of capital – the secured bondholders – got royally screwed while unions made out like bandits. If he is looking for insulting labels, wouldn't it be more accurate to call the bailout "crony unionionism"?

But setting that aside, it is striking that Romney is not backing away from his anti-bailout message. In fact, The Detroit News op-ed pretty much echoes his 2008 New York Times column, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." No doubt this is partly because Romney has already tapped out his quota of flip-flops for this election season and fears—correctly—that one more flip-flop might cause Michigan voters to flip and him to flop. But here's what I really don't understand. Romney says in The News column:

The dream of the Motor City is and always has been one of ideas, innovation, enterprise, and opportunity. It started with Henry Ford and continued with visionaries like William Durant, Walter Chrysler, and the Dodge Brothers. These giants never envisioned a role for government in their business, but relied on the hard work and commitment of private individuals.

Their dream is alive in all of us who have ever called Detroit home. And with a Detroiter in the White House, that dream can be realized once again.

But if he is opposed to the auto bailout and all the heroes he mentions "never envisioned a role for government in their business," then why would it matter to Detroiters that a Detroiter is in the White House? Isn't the whole point of limited government and free markets to make the White House occupant completely irrelevant to the success of an industry?