Four years ago I wrote, “if Republicans want the joke to be on them, they can listen to [Rich]Lowry [of National Review], line up to damn the American auto industry, and look forward to losing the Great Lakes states year after year after year.” Tonight, I am sure that Mitt Romney regrets writing the op-ed piece the New York Times titled, perhaps unfairly, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” On September 29, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a poll showing that 62% of Ohio voters felt that the auto bailout had been a success, and Ohio Republicans certainly understood the danger that this posed to Romney. On September 30, former Senator George Voinovich had a piece in the Plain Dealer arguing that George W. Bush deserved substantial credit for saving the American auto industry, and current Senator Rob Portman argued in the October 26 Plain Dealer that Romney’s op-ed had been misunderstood, and that Romney had in fact supported aid for the American auto industry. But Voinovich and Portman were too late: a blizzard of Obama ads stressing Romney’s record at Bain Capital and appealing to economic patriotism had already convinced enough Ohioans that Romney was unconcerned about the fate of American manufacturing.
Four years later, Rich Lowry has conceded the political potency of appeals to economic patriotism. But his magazine is urging Republicans to stay the course and continues to argue that dogmatic adherence to free trade always makes sense, even when other nations use protectionist measures against us, and even though our trade policies have brought us to the point where 97% of jobs now being created in the United States are being created in sectors of the economy not subject to foreign competition. Voters in the industrial Midwest know, from decades of personal experience, that what National Review is peddling is a destructive fantasy. The sooner Republican politicians also come to realize this, the better off they will be.
UPDATE: Here is an interesting Associated Press story making the same point, and noting that the auto bailout even helped Obama win votes from people sympathetic to Republicans on social issues.