OpinionTop of the Ticket

Mitt Romney, vulture capitalist, stalls in blue-collar Michigan

ElectionsPoliticsMitt RomneyJobs and WorkplaceFinancially Distressed CompaniesBankruptcyEconomy, Business and Finance

This post has been updated. See note at the bottom for details.

The latest insult to Mitt Romney’s pride is that he stands a good chance of losing the primary in Michigan, his boyhood home.

His dad was a popular Michigan governor, but that was a long time ago and Mitt has not lived in the state for 46 years. The ties are growing tenuous. Four years ago he won the primary against John McCain, but, in that race, Romney was the favorite of the right wing. This time around, they have a new darling, Rick Santorum. Born-again voters are being reborn for Rick while shunning Mitt, the political apostate from godless Massachusetts.

So, with the advantages that worked in 2008 rapidly dissipating, Romney is having to fall back on the one huge advantage he has over all his challengers: tons of money to buy attack ads. Between the Romney campaign and the “independent” super PAC that backs Romney, Santorum is being outspent in Michigan by a margin of 40 to 1.

Destroying the opposition has worked before for Romney. Negative ads knocked back Newt Gingrich in Iowa and finished him in Florida. But going negative may have also contributed to the surge in unfavorable feelings voters have about Romney. Nobody likes a politician who plays dirty.

One more thing can’t be helping Romney in Michigan: his opposition to the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009. On Thursday, GM announced the company posted its biggest profits in history, which undermines Romney’s argument that bankruptcy would have been a better way to go for the auto companies.

Bankruptcy is good for stockholders and creditors, not so good for workers, and that leads to one more reason it’s tough for Romney to connect in Michigan: Blue-collar Republicans have a much greater affinity for Santorum, with his working-class roots and plan for boosting American manufacturing, than for the boss of Bain Capital.

In Rick Perry’s memorable phrase, Romney is a “vulture capitalist,” a guy who made his fortune by taking apart companies and putting them back together in ways that protected rich investors while putting lots of workers out on the street. If anyone is the Wall Street candidate in this election year, it is Mitt Romney.

If Romney can’t persuade Michigan Republicans to vote for him in a primary, it will be doubly hard for him to win the state in a general election. All those autoworkers might vote for a Republican if he was standing tall for blue-collar guys the way Clint Eastwood did in that famous Super Bowl ad. But Mitt isn't Clint. Working folks are more likely to remember that Romney was the man who would have put them in the unemployment line back in 2009.

[Updated 2:16 p.m. Feb. 17:] CLARIFICATION: The phrase "Bankruptcy is good for stockholders and creditors" is inaccurate. The much more precise point is that employees of companies that go into bankruptcy are last in line (or not even in line at all) behind bondholders, creditors, some stockholders and others with financial claims. This may be bad or good depending on your point of view. What is relevant as he seeks votes in Michigan is that Romney favored bankruptcy procedures that probably would have made things harder on workers while the Obama administration, by inserting federal money and oversight into the eventual bankruptcies of Chrysler and GM, was able to insist on some protections for employees and, particularly in the case of Chrysler, make the United Auto Workers a big part of the deal.

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