DETROIT — “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden and his supporters aren’t using this bumper sticker slogan from the 2012 re-election of Barack Obama going into Tuesday’s presidential primary in Michigan.
But it’s the foundation of their appeal to Democratic voters — that Biden is a relationships guy with a long history of backing Detroit when it mattered most.
“In 2009, when GM and Chrysler were on the verge of bankruptcy, it was Barack Obama and Joe Biden who believed in us,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Monday night at a rally with Biden at Detroit’s Renaissance High School.
Biden didn’t say the words — “I bailed Detroit out” — but he didn’t have to.
His allies in the Democratic Party establishment were happy to oblige, drawing on the playbook Democrats have used for the past five cycles by touting the Obama-Biden administration’s use of billions in taxpayer dollars to bail out General Motors and the former Chrysler Group LLC.
“When our auto industry was struggling, who had our backs? That’s right. Barack Obama and Joe Biden,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said. “So today, I say let’s have Joe Biden’s back.”
Michigan won’t forget
Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who was in office when the auto industry was on the brink of collapse, portrayed Biden’s work on the auto bailout as nothing short of heroic.
“Michigan is not going to forget,” Granholm said last week on CNN. “We were on our knees and Joe Biden picked us up and carried us on his shoulders.”
Duggan went as far to argue that the 5,000 jobs Fiat Chrysler Automobiles intends to create this year at its Jeffeson North and Mack Avenue assembly plants were a result of Obama and Biden bailing out Chrysler (and letting the Italian automaker Fiat SpA take the reins in Auburn Hills).
“Those 5,000 jobs wouldn’t be there if Barack Obama and Joe Biden hadn’t believed in us,” said Duggan, who is taking Biden on a closed press trip Tuesday morning to the Mack Avenue plant construction site.
Biden visited Fiat Chrysler’s Mack Avenue plant in Detroit on Tuesday morning. “Unions built the country,” Biden said, yelling through a bullhorn. “You’re the best damn workers in the world.”
This message likely has an appeal to Michigan Democratic voters whose livelihoods have revolved around the auto industry, especially in a city like Detroit where union-wage automotive jobs are coveted.
Will it work?
But will it work at the ballot box on Tuesday?
Bernie Sanders is betting it doesn’t matter anymore. The self-described democratic socialist is breaking the norms of the Democratic Party primary, portraying Biden as part of the “corporate establishment” that got bailed out during the Great Recession.
He’s even unapologetic about voting against the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money for Wall Street that included part of the bailout funds for GM and Chrysler.
“Sometimes you have to make that choice,” Sanders said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “But the (Wall Street) bailout was a disaster. My view was that the billionaires of this country should have bailed out Wall Street, not working families.”
In 2016, during a televised debate in Flint, Hillary Clinton tried to beat Sanders over the head about voting against auto bailout money. But it didn’t work.
Four years later, Sanders is spoiling for another upset of an establishment Democratic politician, casting aside their playbook that seems still focused on re-litigating the 2009 auto bailout.
In his closing arguments, Biden has focused solely on President Donald Trump (who went from an enthusiastic supporter of rescuing Michigan’s automakers to saying the companies could have gone bankrupt and rebuilt themselves without taxpayer assistance).
What’s missing in the Biden camp’s emphasis on what he’s done in the past for Michigan and Detroit is an economic vision for the future.
But perhaps in this volatile election year, past achievements will trump new ideas.
Reuters contributed to this story.