How Romney's grossly misleading Jeep-to-China ads might win him the election

The Week

Critics have slammed Romney for claiming the bailout destroyed U.S. jobs and created employment overseas. So why is he sticking to the claim?

Mitt Romney has been pilloried by fact checkers, auto executives, and Democrats for releasing campaign ads claiming that President Obama's auto bailout is helping Chrysler ship Jeep jobs to China. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne issued a company-wide email telling workers that Romney's ads were "inaccurate." Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, said the widely debunked ads "reek of desperation." Bill Clinton called them a "load of bull." Several newspapers in Ohio, a key swing state and home to Jeep plants, called the ads misleading — the Cleveland Plain Dealer said in an editorial that the claims were a "ploy" that shows Romney is "flailing in Ohio." Instead of backtracking, though, Romney doubled down on Tuesday by airing a new radio version of the spot in northwest Ohio (listen below). Why is Romney sticking with this line of attack in the face of such widespread criticism?

It might just help him win: The "ad is clearly misleading," says Alex Altman at TIME, but it's still "smart politics." Romney might feel a little fudging is okay, given how Obama "caricatured" his opposition to the bailout. Regardless, the stand has hurt him in Ohio, which is heavy in auto jobs and also happens to be "the most important state on the electoral map." If he can muddy the issue enough to win over "some independents with soft support" for Obama because of the bailout, it might make all the difference.
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Actually, this makes Romney look desperate: It's startling that Romney "thinks Ohioans will believe this stuff," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. The auto bailout is a problem for him in Ohio, a key swing state, but saying that the bailout created jobs for China rather than the U.S., when Jeep is adding jobs here, flies "directly in the face of reality." Playing on people's fears so dishonestly makes him look desperate.
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We won't know if it worked until election day: "I'd like to believe" voters will see this as a stain on Romney's integrity, says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. "But I wonder." A wave of "indignant newspaper coverage" might go a long way toward setting the record straight, but it might not "compare to a gut-punch of a TV ad that airs a few thousand times in the course of a week." It's anybody's guess which will carry more weight. "I guess we'll find out next Tuesday."
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<pRead more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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