Romney Prescribes Tough Love for Detroit

Opposition to auto bailout comes after populist push in Michigan's primary.

ByABC News
November 21, 2008, 6:52 PM

Nov. 24, 2008 -- Back in the Republican primaries, when Mitt Romney staked his campaign's prospects on victory in his native Michigan, he was a loud voice calling for Washington to save Detroit.

"The question is, 'Where is Washington?' " Romney said outside a General Motors plant in January. "Where does it stop? Is there a point at which someone says 'enough'? Or are we going to allow the entire domestic automotive manufacturing industry to disappear?"

But now, with the Big Three automakers lobbying Congress for a bailout that executives say is needed to keep the industry alive, the former Massachusetts governor is prescribing a tough love approach to the industry he grew up in.

Romney is strongly opposed to the auto industry's request for $25 billion in low-interest loans. He is calling for management shakeups inside the companies as they engage in extensive economic restructuring, and is recommending bankruptcy or similar legal arrangements for America's auto giants.

"Just sending a check and hoping for the best is not the right choice," Romney told Friday, in between campaign stops in Georgia, where he was campaigning for Sen. Saxby Chambliss' re-election.

"Simply patting the sick patient on the back and saying don't worry, everything will be fine -- that is not the right course for the auto industry," Romney said.

Romney entered the national debate this week with an op-ed in The New York Times that carried an eyebrow-raising headline: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

His stark statements caught many political observers -- including some of his most influential backers in Michigan -- by surprise.

"It's a complete 180. ... People are dismayed by his betrayal," said Oakland County executive L. Brooks Patterson, a veteran Republican elected official from the Detroit suburbs who was a prominent Romney supporter in the primaries. "I just can't believe that these words tumbled out of his mouth, given his background, given everything he said during the campaign."