Mike Jackson, the CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation, delivered an unusually harsh rebuke Thursday to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Jackson applied the terms "reckless" and "dishonest" to Romney's view of the government bailout of U.S. automakers General Motors and Chrysler, and said the candidate's views are so off-base that he's wondering if the candidate has what it takes to be president.
Jackson, a Republican, voiced his criticisms in response to a column Romney wrote for the Detroit News. Romney blasted the 2008-2009 bailout as an example of "crony capitalism" and capitulating to union bosses.
"As far as Mitt's piece in [Tuesday's] Detroit News it was truly reckless, detached from reality, and dishonest. I also think it's very bad politics, especially in Michigan," Jackson wrote in a letter to the editor to the Detroit newspaper and to the Sun Sentinel.
In an interview published Thursday on CNBC.com, Jackson was asked if he thinks Romney "has what it takes to be president and turn this economy around?"
Jackson's response: "I struggle with this question. He is a bright, astute, successful businessman. That leads me to say 'yes.' Then I read this Op-Ed piece and just scratch my head. That leaves me ambivalent."
AutoNation spokesman Marc Cannon confirmed his boss' comments to CNBC.
In his column, Romney blamed Obama for the auto industry bailout. "This was crony capitalism on a grand scale. The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better."
In his response, Jackson called Romney's assertions "dishonest" because it was formerPresident George W. Bushwho started the bailout.
He told CNBC.com that most Americans agree in principle that government bailouts are wrong. "Unfortunately, the catastrophe in '08 was so calamitous that government actions were necessary to avoid a great depression. Sometimes reality trumps principle and a courageous leader will understand that and will take the leap even when it is dramatically unpopular."
Jackson has helped Republican and Democratic candidates raise money in the past. He's not doing any fundraising during the current election cycle, Cannon said, because he's currently a member of the board of directors of the Miami branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
A Romney campaign spokesman couldn't be reached by phone or email Thursday afternoon.
But David Di Pietro, chairman of the Romney campaign in Broward, said Jackson's comments would be seen by many people as coming from someone who's biased because he's so close to the industry.
Di Pietro said his candidate's position would resonate with most voters in swing states — and in Michigan.
A planned bankruptcy that eliminated union contacts would have been best for the industry, Di Pietro said, and helped create long-term change. "What they basically did was put a Band-Aid on a time bomb because President Obama didn't have the fortitude to take on the unions."
Read what Romney wrote and Jackson's response at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics
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