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Your timing is off - the bailouts were pre-Tea Party. The opposition to saving the auto industry was bi-partisan and fueled by the left and the rights outrage at the Wall Street bailouts. I remember having articles with Democratic Party friends on the East Coast and West Coast that were totally opposed to bailing out the auto industry. I was in an OE assembly plant for a Japanese transplant in the south in November of 2008 and the workers there were hoping for GM and Chrysler to go bankrupt because they figured it meant more business for them. I had to patiently explain to these people that when GM went bankrupt half the supply chain would go down with them and their plant wouldn't be manufacturing anything because within 6 weeks they would be out of parts. Now the transplants are all just in time manufacturing, they don't have anything stockpiled. The minute the supplier announces its doors are closing the transplants have no inventory to fall back on.
So watching all these Southern Republicans on the floor of Congress railing against the bailout thinking it meant more jobs for their state was scary. They only calmed down and shut up about things when the heads of Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, BMW, VW and the rest explained to them that their plants were going to have to shutter and lay everyone off in their states if GM went down. But by then the well was poisoned. As one whose livelihood depended on it I think I remember much better than you just how against this move the public was. So tell me, would John McCain have saved the auto industry? Would Mitt Romney? I don't think either man had the courage to stand up to the Republican opposition to the bailout. Especially when they had bi-partisan cover to oppose it. I come to this from how both men caved to the extremes of their party in their attempts to be President. McCain with the Palin pick, Romney...well, Romney just by being Romney.
So no, fundamentally it was going to have to be an Obama or Clinton to save the auto industry. Because the post Bush post Wall Street bailout GOP wasn't going to do it. Best case Romney would have made post bankruptcy guarantees so his venture capitalist buddies could buy up GM and Chrysler for pennies on the dollar to turn massive profits post bankruptcy. Basically the deal they pulled with Delphi. But a robust auto industry where the government got paid back - no chance under a McCain or Romney.
These are really good points, obviously extremely knowledgable and heartfelt. I would only say I don't know that they completely contradict my argument. Presidents tend have a slightly different take their own parties in cases like this. I think the presidency gives you some unique sense of responsibility. You also know history will judge you. Having said that, I take AB's point that neither of these men -- McCain and Romney -- showed any inclination or ability to stand down the fire-eaters in their won parties. So my point may stand with regards to presidents in general, presidents of the past, but maybe not these two men, had they become president. Maybe it was just Obama.