Retired Chrysler CEO and former Ford president Lee Iacocca has endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Iacocca is a political independent with a record of endorsing both Republicans and Democrats for the United States’ highest elected office. In his endorsement statement, which was also published as an op-ed piece in the Detroit News, Iacocca stressed his and Romney’s experience in “turnarounds”, America’s need for leadership, and his opinion that the future of the country depends on the results of this particular presidential election.
It’s safe to assume that the Romney campaign will see Iacocca’s endorsement as helpful in both the retired Chrysler chief’s native Pennsylvania and in Romney’s native Michigan. Both of those states have been considered to be solid electoral votes for President Obama but some recent polls have been trending towards Romney, with reports of his campaign starting to allocate funds for campaigning in those states, indicating that they might still be in play. Iacocca is widely admired in Michigan and his opinions still carry weight in the automotive community. Chrysler has its headquarters in Auburn Hills as well as a number of engine and assembly plants elsewhere in Michigan. The automaker is one of that state’s biggest employers.
It’s probably also safe to assume that the endorsement of Iacocca, who shepherded Chrysler through its first bailout, backed by federal loan guarantees in the early 1980s, is intended to sway automotive related voters who are favorable to Obama because of the more recent bailout of Chrysler and GM. That has to be assumed because Iacocca never explicitly references the 2009 bankruptcies and restructuring in his statement. In a 2010 interview with the Detroit News, Iacocca is on record as supporting the Obama administration’s actions to save GM and Chrysler, though he expressed reservations about how the deal was structured.
Though they’re probably accurate, most of those assumptions can’t be confirmed. At 88, Mr. Iacocca is enjoying his retirement and he no longer does press interviews or speeches. He also won’t be doing any public appearances with Romney or on his behalf.
Some of Iacocca’s reservations about how the bailouts were structured might have been about his not insignificant ego. According to Iacocca, Pres. Obama’s task force on restructuring the domestic auto industry asked for his advice but ignored his recommendations. In that 2010 interview Iacocca said that the task force had “called me for my advice [in the spring of 2009], but they didn’t follow it too well.” Iacocca has also been critical of the number of Chrysler and GM dealers culled in the bankruptcy (“they went too far”) and of micromanagement of those automakers by that same task force. Iacocca told the DetNews that at the time he told task force co-chairman Larry Summers, who was President Obama’s economic adviser, “Keep your hands off of (the auto companies). You can’t run a business out of Washington, D.C.” Iacocca had a personal stake in the bankruptcies. To reference Robert Farago’s question of Bob Lutz’s over his personal finances, Iacocca lost 80% of his Chrysler pension in the restructuring.
It’s possible that there’s more to this endorsement than politics. It might be personal. The men do know each other. Iacocca was a rising star at Ford at the same time that Mitt’s father, George Romney, was running American Motors and Iacocca has expressed admiration for the senior Romney. The social world of Detroit auto execs living in Grosse Pointe, Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Isle has
always been incestuous and nepotistic never been that large and Iacocca socialized with George and Lenore Romney and has known Mitt since he was a boy.
In his 2008 book, Where Have All The Leaders Gone?, Iacocca expressed praise for Romney’s competence in business and governance as well as his personal character while expressing concerns about the former Mass. governor’s embrace of more conservative social issues. It appears that Iacocca’s concerns for the economic future of the United States now outweigh those reservations.