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Michigan to Romney: Go away

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
February 15, 2012 -- Updated 0238 GMT (1038 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: In 2008, Romney vowed to do anything to save the auto industry
  • LZ: Then he wrote an op-ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," infuriating Michigan
  • Romney plays to the crowd, saying whatever he thinks will get him elected, LZ says
  • LZ: Romney was wrong on bailout: It saved 1.5 million jobs and industry is roaring back

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs. Watch him on Tuesdays on CNN Newsroom, in the 9 am ET hour.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- One very clear reason why Mitt Romney is far from a lock to win the Michigan primary, despite his ties to the state, is that he's not really tied to the state.

He was born here, he lived here. But he's not family. Not anymore. 

That's why the characterization of Rick Santorum polling well in Romney's backyard is a bit misguided. The truth is, many of us disowned that two-faced liar years ago. We remember how, back in 2008, Romney came home promising to do all he could to save the auto industry. And we believed him and voted for him and he won the primary here. Then, after he dropped out of the race, he wrote a New York Times op-ed that carried the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

The opening sentence: "If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye."

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

What the hell?

I thought he said he was one of us.

Later in the piece, Romney talks about why we should let the auto industry go bankrupt. Although he lays out some very sound reasons for this -- including an anecdotal story of when his father, George, took over American Motors -- at the end of the day he fails to mention the most important thing. Us.  

He forgot about the people back home who depended on the auto industry to put food on the table, pay mortgages, send the kids to college. He greeted us like family when he needed our votes, but when he left town he treated us like strangers.

If Romney didn't think a bailout was the best way to help the state, he should have said that when he came here looking for delegates and let the people at his rallies decide if they agreed with him. Instead he pandered, then kicked dirt in our faces on his way out the door -- an all too familiar pattern with Romney.

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The reason Santorum is gaining votes in Michigan isn't because he's so liked here, though his social conservative rhetoric plays well in the western side of the state. But it's because we've been burned by Romney before. He tells the people in front of him what they want to hear. But when he sets his sights on a new shiny object, he changes the script to fit his new needs.

We've seen him do it with abortion and health care reform.

We've seen him do it with taxes. 

When Romney was running for the Senate in 1994, he sent the Log Cabin Republicans of Massachusetts, a gay rights organization, a letter saying "don't ask, don't tell" was the first of "a number of steps that will ultimately lead to gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation's military."

Then in 2007, when he was running for president, he said he would not change the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and that changing it would amount to a "social experiment."

I might not like a lot of Santorum's views, but at least I know what they are. Saying Romney flip-flops is an insult to flip-flops. That's why, according to a poll by the American Research Group, 33% of Michigan GOP voters say they support Santorum and only 27% support Romney.

In response to his unstable footing in his "home" state, Romney penned a new op-ed in Tuesday's Detroit News to defend his New York Times piece. In true partisan fashion, he blasts President Obama for orchestrating the auto bailout while neglecting to mention in 2008 President Bush had moved to give Chrysler and GM billions of taxpayer's dollars at the beginning of 2009. This is one of the reasons why Obama has to remind the public about the Bush years. If he doesn't, Republicans like Romney and Santorum will try to whitewash history and limit the economic conversation to the past three years as if we're in a vacuum.

Oh, and by the way, he was wrong.

The auto industry did not collapse.

In fact, reports show the bailouts saved an estimated 1.5 million jobs. The auto industry is expected to grow by 28% by 2015, with the Big Three set to hire about 33,000 people in Michigan alone. And while Ford did not participate in the bailout, G.M. did, and was able to regain its place as the top automaker in the world.

Chrysler also took part and recorded its first annual net profit since 1997, and announced plans to invest $500 million in an assembly plant in nearby Toledo, Ohio, adding an entire second shift of jobs over the course of the year.

Couple all that with 23 consecutive months of job growth across the nation and what you have is good news for Michigan and choppy political waters for Romney. He's scheduled to appear in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, presumably with a big ol' plate of crow.

He knows as the auto industry goes, so goes the state. He also knows we remember he said the country should let the auto industry hit rock bottom. Had Romney said that to our faces when he was campaigning here four years ago, we could at least respect what he has to say about the auto industry and the state of the economy today.

But it's going to be tough to sit and listen to Romney, knowing he will try to say whatever he thinks we want to hear. And besides, our backs are still sore from that knife he stuck in them in 2008. 

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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