Is Mitt Romney ad on Jeep jobs misleading?

A new Romney campaign ad, running in the battleground state of Ohio, implies that Chrysler is moving US jobs building Jeeps to China, and that Obama is at fault for having 'sold Chrysler to the Italians.'

Charles Dharapak/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks before participating in a campaign event collecting supplies from residents and local relief organizations for victims of superstorm Sandy, Tuesday, Oct. 30, at the James S. Trent Arena in Kettering, Ohio.

Is Jeep moving US manufacturing jobs to China? That’s the implication in a new ad from Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign that’s running in the key battleground state of Ohio.

Auto manufacturing is a big part of the Buckeye State economy, and Mr. Romney’s chances there may have been damaged by President Obama’s assertion that Romney opposed the federal bailout of the auto industry. The new Jeep spot is likely Romney’s attempt to reclaim some votes on this issue.

First, let’s look at the ad itself. Titled “Who Will Do More?,” the 30-second spot opens with the general charge that Barack Obama won’t do as much as Romney will to help car firms in the future. It says Romney has a plan for this, though it doesn’t go into specifics, and then notes that the former Massachusetts governor is backed by ex-Chrysler chief Lee Iacocca and the editorial page of The Detroit News.

Then it reaches the crux of the matter. “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”

Here’s the clever aspect of this: Taken apart, each clause in those two sentences is true, or at least defensible. But put together, they’re implying that Mr. Obama’s actions have led to Jeep jobs jumping to Beijing. That’s not true. It’s an assertion that the fact-checking website Politifact says “throws reality into reverse.”

We’ll run through the paragraph piece by piece. Yes, Obama did take GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy in early 2009, as Romney had earlier suggested in an opinion piece in The New York Times. But the Obama administration arranged for government debtor-in-place financing to take the firms through bankruptcy court, while Romney envisioned the private marketplace providing that money. Given the extent the world’s financial woes at the time, Romney’s expectation might have been unrealistic.

Yes, Italians did buy Chrysler. Cerberus Capital, Chrysler’s previous owner, had been talking to Fiat about a deal; the Obama administration’s auto task force quickly told the parties they had to reach a merger agreement or Chrysler would lose the government loans keeping it afloat. After Chrysler's bankruptcy, Fiat emerged with a 20 percent stake in the firm and operational control.

It’s also possible that the Italians who own Chrysler are going to build Jeeps – perhaps Chrysler’s most valuable auto brand – in China. In an e-mail to employees Tuesday, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne repeated a previous announcement that the firm is thinking of restarting a Jeep assembly line in China closed in 2009 to supply the local market.

In the e-mail, Mr. Marchionne adds that the Chinese market would be inaccessible otherwise. Beijing keeps tight control of the nation’s car marketplace; tariffs and other regulations render it off limits to foreign-made mass market models.

“I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position. Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China. North American production is critical to achieving our goal of selling 800,000 Jeep vehicles by 2014. In fact, US production of our Jeep models has nearly tripled ... since 2009 in order to keep up with global demand,” wrote Marchionne in the e-mail, posted online by the Detroit Free Press.

Last Thursday during a campaign stop in Defiance, Ohio, Romney said he’d seen a story indicating that “Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”

As Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, “This was completely wrong.” A Bloomberg story had reported accurately on Jeep’s China intentions. Some conservative blogs then misinterpreted the story to mean that the departure of Jeep jobs was imminent. Romney may have received his false information from them.

The Romney ad drops the part about “moving all production to China.” But it’s implying the same thing – otherwise, why mention “Jeep” and “China” in the same sentence at all?

“The series of statements in the ad individually may be technically correct, but the overall message of the ad is clearly misleading – especially since it appears to have been designed to piggyback off of Romney’s gross misstatement that Chrysler was moving Ohio factory jobs to China,” concludes Mr. Kessler.

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