In the last week or so, Mitt Romney has accused Barack Obama of focusing his campaign on “small things,” but let’s be honest—at this point, everybody is focused on small things. And these small things are unlikely to make much of a difference with so little time left. Which is why it was odd to see the Romney campaign stumble so badly with the Jeeps being built in China attack. How did they manage to take a criticism that would likely have just glanced off Obama anyway, and turn it into something that not only had everyone talking about Obama’s best case to Ohio voters (the auto bailout), but also made Romney look cynical and dishonest?
Here’s what I think happened. They heard the first, somewhat unclear report that Chrysler was going to be manufacturing Jeeps in China, without quite understanding what it meant, namely that they will be making them for the Chinese market (because of Chinese tarriffs, Chrysler would only be able to sell the Jeeps there if they make them there). By the time they figured out all the facts, Romney had already mentioned it on the stump, saying inaccurately that the company was “thinking of moving all production to China.” So the campaign probably figured, we can still use this to try to discredit the bailout, we’ll just be careful about the words we use.
And that’s where they didn’t quite grasp the implications of what they were doing. If you look at the ad they made, you’ll see that though it’s obviously meant to deceive people into thinking American jobs are being sent to China as a result of the bailout, the words are literally true. “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy,” the ad says, “and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps [pause for effect] in China.” The Romney campaign thought they could play by the ordinary campaign rules, which say that if you say something true but intentionally misleading, you will usually be judged not guilty. Reporters will discuss the issue in the he said/she said format, with you saying you’re telling the truth and your opponent saying you aren’t, and you can declare victory.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, Romney got a wave of negative coverage over the issue, with journalist after journalist saying forthrightly in their stories that the Romney attack is misleading or deceptive. This was particularly true in Michigan and Ohio, where the state of the auto industry is kind of important. Why did they do that? Two reasons, I think. The first and less important one is that after so many shamelessly false statements by Romney and his campaign, journalists’ tolerance for this stuff may have run out. But the more important reason is the car companies stepped up to act as third-party validators of the truth. The Chrysler CEO wrote an emphatic letter to the company’s employees assuring them no American jobs were moving to China, and a GM spokesperson criticized the ad as well.
Which, if the Romney campaign had been a bit more thoughtful, they might have expected. Don’t forget that Chrysler and GM have their own interest in maintaining support for the bailout. They got lots of help from American taxpayers, and they want those taxpayers to see the bailout as a success story, continue to feel good about American car companies, and continue to buy their cars. They might stay silent while Republicans criticize the bailout, but if you accuse them of a specific act that they aren’t guilty of, they’re going to speak up. Romney stepped over a line from attacking Barack Obama to attacking Chrysler, and he should have anticipated that Chrysler wouldn’t take it lying down. When Chrysler spoke up and explained the facts, that gave the press permission to step out of the he said/she said bind and report accurately that Romney was being misleading.
And that’s how, just a few days before the election, Romney shot himself in the foot in the one state he absolutely, positively can’t afford to lose.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 5, 2012
“A Matter Of Character And Trust”: Did Mitt Romney Break The Law By Failing To Disclose Delphi Investments?
We now know, thanks to Greg Palast’s recent scoop in The Nation, that Mitt Romney reaped a large financial windfall from the auto bailouts. Romney didn’t talk up this shrewd investment while touting his business experience on the campaign trail, for obvious reasons—he is a strong critic of those bailouts.
But while Romney had ample political reasons to conceal his investment, he apparently had no legal justification for doing so. Federal law requires that candidates disclose stock holdings that are affected by government action—and Romney’s million-dollar (at least) investment in a hedge fund that bought up Delphi stocks surely fits that bill.
Now, unions and good-government groups are calling on the feds to investigate Romney’s oversight.
Thursday afternoon in Toledo, Ohio—where the story has received significant play in local media—United Auto Workers president Bob King joined Palast and Service Employees International Union vice president Tom Woodruff to call upon the US Office of Government Ethics to look into Romney’s financial disclosures and their failure to list the Delphi investments. Along with several groups like CREW and Public Citizen, the union leaders also sent a letter to OGE demanding a formal investigation.
“The American people have a right to know about Governor Romney’s potential conflicts of interest, such as the profits his family made from the auto rescue,” said King. “It’s time for Governor Romney to disclose or divest.”
As Palast reported, a trust in Ann Romney’s name listed “more than $1 million” invested with Elliott Management, run by hedge fund guru and GOP mega-donor Paul Singer. (That’s the minimum amount of disclosure required by law, so it could have been much more than $1 million.) Singer subsequently snapped up large amounts of stock in Delphi at pennies on the dollar, and then, along with other hedge funds, demanded that the government assume pension responsibilities and bail the company out—or they would shut it down, thus crushing General Motors as well.
The government acceded, Delphi became lucrative again and then went public, and Elliott Management and its investors—including Romney—reaped enormous rewards.
Under any rational interpretation of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, these are holdings that a presidential candidate would need to disclose, because they can be affected by government action. The Romney campaign doesn’t argue that they are not, but rather that, since Ann Romney’s trust is “blind,” there is no disclosure requirement.
Today’s letter points out, however, that Ann Romney’s trust is blind in name only. Romney himself has said that “the blind trust is an age-old ruse, if you will. Which is to say you can always tell a blind trust what it can and cannot do.” Moreover, this is not a federally recognized blind trust of the sort Romney would be forced to create if he won the White House. If it was, he would have never been able to reap his windfall from Delphi, the letter points out.
Whether or not Romney broke the law will come down to this question of how blind this trust really is, and Romney at least has some plausible deniability there. But no doubt this is a story his campaign doesn’t want to see playing out in Ohio five days before the election.
By: George Zornick, The Nation, November 1, 2012
One week from today, voters across the country will head to the polls and elect a president and a Congress. Literally billions of dollars have been spent so far to influence the outcome, not to mention countless hours of personal sacrifice and effort. Alas, politics is a zero-sum game: there will be no return on investment for the losers. Even if a candidate wins by a single vote, his or her backers can be rewarded with extraordinary power, access and profit, while the very narrow loser gets nothing, and the supporters, less—just red ink on the ledger.
So in this last week of campaigning, all the stops come out. For too many political operatives that have long since discarded notions of professional ethics, the only question about a dirty tactic is: will it work? In July, the answer is likely to be “probably not,” because the trick can be discovered and the candidate branded as dirty, or a cheater.
But now, with so little time left—with no real time for tricks to be exposed nor for narratives about questionable tactics to shape up—dirty moves look pretty appealing. (It also helps that the national press, aside from being overwhelmed with the conclusion of so many important races, is also distracted by a historically catastrophic storm).
And so we’ve seen them. On the top line, this dynamic probably explains the Romney campaign’s decision to run a series of ads in Ohio claiming that, thanks to Obama’s auto bailout, Chrysler is going to move all Jeep production to China. This is not true in any possible interpretation of the facts, and I have to think that, despite his loose relationship with the truth, there’s no way Romney would go this far out on a limb in the summer time. (As John Nichols writes today, “Yes, Romney’s a Liar, but This Is Getting Ridiculous.”) The company itself has blasted this as “a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats,” while assuring panicked workers, and Vice President Biden has aggressively fought back, asking “Have they no shame?” Newspapers editorials across the state are blasting Romney’s lie.
Normally, this is the type of blowback that would really harm a candidate, but the Romney camp’s calculation is clearly that there just isn’t time for that—and meanwhile, many low-information voters can be scared into voting Romney. I’m not sure that’s the right calculation, but one they’ve made: after three days of pushback from the company and pretty much everyone else, Romney responded Tuesday afternoon by releasing a radio version of the ad that’s even more dishonest than the original spot.
But beneath headline-level antics like this, things are getting even dirtier. Scott Keyes at ThinkProgress reported today that the Romney campaign in Wisconsin is training volunteers to explicitly mislead voters:
Documents from a recent Romney poll watcher training obtained by ThinkProgress contain several misleading or untrue claims about the rights of Wisconsin voters… One blatant falsehood occurs on page 5 of the training packet, which informed poll watchers that any “person [who] has been convicted of treason, a felony, or bribery” isn’t eligible to vote. This is not true. Once a Wisconsin voter who has been convicted of a felony completes his or her sentence, that person is once again eligible to vote.
The poll workers are also being given incomplete information as to what can be used as identification to vote in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, voters in Virginia—where both the presidential race and key Senate race are essentially tied—are receiving truly deceptive robocalls about President Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
First, the phone rings and “William Kristol” comes up on caller ID. (Yes, that one). His group, the Emergency Committee for Israel, is paying for the call, which features random remarks from different Obama and Netanyahu speeches spliced together as if the two had a debate—and one in which Obama basically tells Netanyahu to get lost. Ron Kampeas at JTA has the transcript:
DEBATE ‘MODERATOR’: Welcome to the first debate between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. President, we’ll start with you.
OBAMA: I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.
“MODERATOR”: Mr. President, thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, your response.
NETANYAHU: The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.
“MODERATOR”: Mr President, your rebuttal.
OBAMA: Obviously there are some differences between us.
ECI: Friends, Americans and Israel cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama. This call was paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel because your vote will make the difference in this election.
I highly doubt Kristol would try this stunt in September. But in one week, there will be earth-shifting news about either the re-election of President Obama or the election of Mitt Romney. Nobody would care about a silly robocall in Virginia, despite the impact it may have had on voters in a critical state.
Look for more things like this in the week ahead—they are a virtual certainty. And if you get a weird robocall, or visit from a misleading activist, jot down the details and contact a friendly reporter. (My information is above, and local news reporters are likely to be interested as well).
By: George Zornick, The Nation, October 30, 2012
It is no secret that political candidates are capable of doing awful things when they are reach the desperate final days of an election campaign.
But trying to scare American workers into believing that a government initiative that saved their industry was some sort of secret scheme to shutter major plants and offshore jobs is more than just creepy. It’s economic fear-mongering of a sort that is destructive to the spirit of communities and to the very future of the republic as an industrial force.
George Romney, who led the remarkable American Motors Company project that would eventually produce the Jeep, never in a political career that saw him win election as governor of Michigan and seek the Republican nomination for president would have engaged in such calumny.
But George Romney’s ne’re-do-well son, a very different sort of businessman who devoted his career to taking apart American companies and offshoring jobs, is trying to resurrect his presidential candidacy with a big lie.
And the lie is about Jeeps.
Jeeps are made in Toledo, Ohio, where the iconic American vehicle has been produced since 1941, and Romney needs to win Toledo and the rest of northwest Ohio if he is to stand a chance of winning the battleground state that is key to the presidency.
Last week, Romney went to the region and shocked voters by suggesting that: “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”
The story, an October 22 report by Bloomberg News, which specifically stated that: “Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. [Fiat/Chrysler executive Mike] Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.”
Yet, Romney spoke of the company that manufactures Jeeps “moving all production to China.
The statement stirred fundamental fears in a regional that has been battered by plant closings. So much so that Jeep’s parent company, Chrysler, rushed to clarify that Romney was completely, totally, incredibly wrong. “Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China,” announced Chrysler.
Company spokesman Gaulberto Ranieri said that Romney had remade the facts so aggressively that: “It is a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.”
What was Romney’s response to being caught in a lie.
He lied bigger.
The Romney campaign is now airing an ad in Ohio that claims President Obama, with the auto bailout that saved domestic vehicle production, “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.”
The ad concludes that Romney—whose Bain Capital enterprise identified as “a pioneer of outsourcing”—“will fight for every American job.”
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the nation’s top experts on political advertising reviewed the ad and dismissed it as “inferentially false.”
“They are inviting a false inference,” Hall said of the Romney campaign’s attempt to suggest that Obama had engineered a change in Jeep’s status that would see the Toledo plant shuttered and its more than 3,500 workers idled.
The Washington Post “Fact Checker” site reviewed Romney’s ad and declared: “the overall message of the ad is clearly misleading—especially since it appears to have been designed to piggyback off of Romney’s gross misstatement that Chrysler was moving Ohio factory jobs to China.”
The pushback from Obama’s backers and his campaign has been aggressive.
Former President Bill Clinton flew to Ohio and decried Romney’s claim as “the biggest load of bull in the world.”
Vice President Joe Biden said: “I have never seen anything like that. It’s an absolutely, patently false assertion. It’s such an outrageous assertion that, one of the few times in my memory, a major American corporation, Chrysler, has felt obliged to go public and say, there is no truth.”
An Obama campaign ad announced that “now, after Romney’s false claim of Jeep outsourcing to China, Chrysler itself has refuted Romney’s lie.”
What was Romney’s response.
Up the ad buy.
Expand the big lie so that it is now enormous.
The deception has become such a serious issue that, on Tuesday, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne felt compelled to clarify what is becoming an international controversy.
“Chrysler Group’s production plans for the Jeep brand have become the focus of public debate. I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” wrote Marchionne, who added:
North American production is critical to achieving our goal of selling 800,000 Jeep vehicles by 2014. In fact, U.S. production of our Jeep models has nearly tripled (it is expected to be up 185 percent) since 2009 in order to keep up with global demand…
With the increase in demand for our vehicles, especially Jeep branded vehicles, we have added more than 11,200 U.S. jobs since 2009. Plants producing Jeep branded vehicles alone have seen the number of people invested in the success of the Jeep brand grow to more than 9,300 hourly jobs from 4,700. This will increase by an additional 1,100 as the Liberty successor, which will be produced in Toledo, is introduced for global distribution in the second quarter of 2013.
There was nothing unambiguous about that statement. Yet Marchionne continued: “Jeep is one of our truly global brands with uniquely American roots. This will never change. So much so that we committed that the iconic Wrangler nameplate, currently produced in our Toledo, Ohio, plant, will never see full production outside the United States.”
“Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand,” confirmed Marchionne. “It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.”
That’s a rare commitment by a manufacturer—far more clear and unequivocal than the commitment Bain Capital made to the companies it bought up, tore apart and outsourced.
Yet, Mitt Romney’s campaign is still running the ad.
That’s made United Auto Workers union president Bob King furious:
It is especially hypocritical of Mr. Romney’s statements and new ad is Bain Capital’s closing of profitable U.S. facilities and shifting work to China to make even higher profits like what is happening today in closing a profitable Sensata plant in Freeport, IL, to move the work to China. Romney says in the ad that he will fight for every American job, so why isn’t he fighting for the American jobs at Sensata? And why isn’t he intervening with his own Bain Capital to keep these jobs in the U.S. rather than outsourcing them to China? We just wish that Mr. Romney was as committed to investing in the U.S. as Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is.
Americans will remember that President Obama stood behind American working families and American communities in rescuing the U.S. auto industry and that Mr. Romney opposed the rescue and now attacks Chrysler with misinformation. In putting out this misinformation, Romney is recklessly undermining Chrysler’s reputation and threatening good American jobs.
Imagine if Mitt Romney were to be elected president of the United States.
Imagine if he had to go into negotiations with Marchionne, or another CEO of another industrial giant, about protecting US jobs. Or expanding US manufacturing.
Would the executive trust Romney?
Or would the executive remember Romney as the politician who lied and then lied bigger in order to get what he wanted?
That’s a question that American voters who want their country to have a future as a country that makes cars and trucks and Jeeps would be wise to ponder as November 6 approaches.
By; John Nichols, The Nation, October 30, 2012