The good news: Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler dumped four Pinocchios on Hillary Clinton this morning for a bald-faced lie about a position taken by Donald Trump. The bad news, populist-outrage edition: Kessler proves beyond a doubt that Trump favored the Bush- and Obama-led bailouts of the auto industry. Given the grassroots’ anger over bailouts in general and the too-big-to-fail policies that bolster Wall Street over Main Street, is this a good development for Trump?
Kessler starts with this argument from Hillary last week while campaigning in Detroit:
Nobody should be surprised, because back in the Great Recession, when millions of jobs across America hung in the balance, Donald Trump said rescuing the auto industry didn’t really matter very much. He said, and I quote again, ‘Let it go.’ Now, I can’t imagine that. I supported President Obama’s decision to rescue the auto industry in America.
Well, not really. While Trump can occasionally appear to take all sides on an issue, Kessler found Trump “remarkably consistent” on the auto bailouts, especially during the crisis. In a two-week period in December 2008, Kessler found four interviews on three different networks where Trump backed government intervention — and in pretty much the form it eventually took, where old debtholders got pushed to the back of the line in favor of government rescuers.
The “let it go” line was taken way out of context, Kessler argues:
Finally, Trump made a meandering comment about the auto bailout on Aug. 11, 2015, in which he tried to have it all ways.
“You could have let it go, and rebuild itself, through the free enterprise system,” Trump said. “You could have let it go bankrupt, frankly, and rebuild itself, and a lot of people think that’s the way it should have happened. Or you could have done it the way it went. I could have done it either way. Either way would have been acceptable. I think you would have wound up in the same place.”
This is where Clinton gets her “let it go” line. She makes it sound like that’s what Trump said at the time— when she was casting votes as a senator to support the auto industry. But actually that statement was made years later — and Trump is saying he could have supported any option. …
The record is clear that Trump in 2008 was supportive of rescuing the auto industry, saying the government should do everything it could to save it: “You just can’t lose Chrysler, you can’t lose Ford, and you can’t lose General Motors.” He touted DIP financing, but he was relatively agnostic about the preferred path.
So yes, Hillary lied about Trump’s position, and got caught at it — again. But is this a fact check that helps Trump? There’s a reason why Trump has stepped back from his 2008 position on auto bailouts — he’s running a campaign that wants to reap the anger that resulted in part from the massive government interventions in 2008-9 that rescued corporate giants while doing very little directly for the masses.
The auto bailouts may be popular in Michigan, but for much of the country, they are wrapped up in the same bailouts that rescued other politically connected financial firms. Trump’s most powerful emotional argument is that “the system is rigged” against the little guys, essentially the same argument Bernie Sanders used to inspire progressives. On the Right, the auto bailouts are considered part of that same “rigging” — an illegitimate intervention based on political calculations that benefited a few fat cats and the politicians that take money from them. It probably doesn’t help matters that Chrysler took the money and sold itself to Fiat, either.
In the overall picture, this might not matter a whole lot. Much of the bailout anger has already been expended, and Hillary made this argument in the only place it might still matter. The value of the four Pinocchios to Trump will outweigh the potential policy questions that might — but probably won’t — arise.