Mitt Romney Won't Run GM

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Atlantic editor James Bennet wrote a really smart and provocative piece about why President Obama should tap Mitt Romney to run General Motors. His reasons are all good, chief among them: 1) GM needs a leader that wasn't present at the uncreation, 2) Romney needs a way to distinguish himself from Republican rivals, and 3) Obama needs some political cover to properly shrink the company, and seems to love coopting enemies.

I'm not going to disagree with my editor, because 60 percent of me thinks he's right, and the rest of me really likes my job. Instead I'll name the reasons why Mitt Romney will never run General Motors.


Why Obama Will Not Offer

First I have a hard time seeing Obama offering Romney the position, not because Romney isn't a whip-smart organizational genius who knows how deal with money in crisis, but because he and Obama happen to disagree about, well, mostly everything. Romney didn't support the GM bailout, he doesn't approve of the government's takeover, and he is not exactly on the record as a union-friendly guy, as he was recently no fan of EFCA. One of the main reasons Obama is bailing out GM is to protect the hundreds of thousand of jobs that would be lost in liquidation. What does Romney's jobs record look like as a manager? Boston Globe painted an unflattering picture with the following points:

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1) Romney's decision to stay on the sidelines as his firm, Bain Capital, slashed jobs at the office supply manufacturer stands in marked contrast to his recent pledges to beleaguered auto workers in Michigan...

2) Throughout his 15-year career at Bain Capital, which bought, sold, and merged dozens of companies, Romney had other chances to fight to save jobs, but didn't...

3) ...a review of Bain's investments during Romney's tenure indicates that job growth was not a particular priority.

Romney's business approach is clear. And for the current crisis in Michigan, it might even be the prudent approach. But it is not the articulated approach of the jobs-first White House.

Finally, what if Obama gave Romney the job and he, you know, actually saved General Motors? Romney would be hailed as a kind of business wizard, respected by conservatives, beloved by Michigan and hailed by moderates. The White House would have created its own Frankenstein for 2012.

Why Romney Will Not Accept

Obama has said he has "no interest" in actually running GM and Romney has said he has no interest in the government's GM strategy. So the appointment of Romney to lead/micromanage GM's financial turnaround would be something of a head fake for both men. But it would create special whiplash for Romney.

As an animal, Romney is hardwired to take over businesses with a ruthless, hands-on approach and deadset against the government running businesses, much less micro-managing their finances like a Bain Capital leveraged buyout. For Romney to run GM would require him to rewire his philosophy of federal involvement in the private sector.

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Romney has been called a robot before, but this would literally make him like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator II, when the ruthless machine of the first movie was coopted by his former enemy John Connor and reprogrammed to save human lives. Romney 1.0, the ruthless laissez faire capitalist opposed to government intervention would have to become a job-saving machine, a symbol and a surrogate of government intervention working for his former enemy. Hasta la vista, Republicanism.

And that brings up the final point, which is that Republicans would be collectively aghast. It's become pretty clear over the last few months that when members of the GOP side with the Obama campaign, they risk ostracization from the rest of the party. Working as a paid employee of the White House on behalf of a union could cement Romney's status as an opportunisitic flip-flopper.

Anybody got more reasons why this won't happen? Or why it will? Or do you have better analogies for Romney's hypothetical choice? Let's hear 'em.

(Many thanks to Atlantic Politics colleague Chris Good for clutch brainstorming work which contributed to most of the piece, notably the T2 reference.)

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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