Chrysler chief: Romney ‘smoking illegal material’

To say that Mitt Romney was wrong about the American automotive industry is a dramatic understatement. Two years ago, with the industry on the verge of collapse and at least a million American jobs on the line, the former governor said Detroit should “go bankrupt,” and told a national television audience that the entire auto industry was likely “to go out of business” as a result of President Obama’s rescue strategy.

Indeed, at the time, Romney called the administration’s plan “tragic” and “a very sad circumstance for this country.” He wrote another piece in which he said Obama’s plan “would make GM the living dead.”

We now know Romney was completely wrong (even though he’s now trying to take credit for the administration’s policy he trashed at the time). Yesterday, an industry leader explained this in colorful terms.

For those who can’t watch clips online, Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Fiat and Chrysler, was asked about Romney’s 2009 position. Marchionne told CNN in response, “Whoever told you that is smoking illegal material. That market had become absolutely dysfunctional in 2008 and 2009. There were attempts made by a variety of people to find strategic alliances with other car makers on a global scale and the government stepped in, as the actor of last resort. It had to do it because the consequences would have been just too large to deal with.”

In other words, Romney wasn’t just wrong; he was drug-addled wrong.

Indeed, Romney’s misguided approach continues to dog his campaign. He appeared on CBS’s “Early Show” yesterday and got a little testy when the subject of the auto industry came up. Given his record, I can’t say I blame Romney for wanting to avoid talking about this.

For his part, President Obama continues to see his success on this issue as something to be proud of, as evidenced by his weekly address this morning.

It’s not a bad message, and it’s worth needling Republicans for how badly they flubbed this crisis: “Today, each of the Big Three automakers — Chrysler, GM, and Ford — is turning a profit for the first time since 2004. Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers for their support during my presidency — and it repaid that money six years ahead of schedule…. Most importantly, all three American automakers are now adding shifts and creating jobs at the strongest rate since the 1990s…. We could have done [in 2009] what a lot of folks in Washington thought we should do — nothing. But that would have made a bad recession worse and put a million people out of work. I refused to let that happen.”