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AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson: Mitt Romney’s Auto Bailout Op-Ed is Reckless and Dishonest

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s latest blast against the auto bailout has one auto exec seeing red.

CNBC has learned Romney’s anti-automaker bailout op-ed in the Detroit News compelled Mike Jackson, Chairman and CEO of AutoNation (ticker: AN), the country’s largest auto dealer, to write a letter to the Editor.

NetNet exclusively obtained a copy of the letter in advance of publication.

Dear Editor:

As far as Mitt piece in yesterday’s Detroit News it was truly reckless, detached from reality, and dishonest. I also think it’s very bad politics, especially in Michigan.

It was Bush that stepped in with the “Bailout” of GM & Chrysler in the fall of ’08, not Obama. So that is just dishonest and W just said it at NADA; “he would do it again.” That circumstance trumped philosophy and he prevented a depression and 20% unemployment.

Secondly, Mitt’s assertion that private financing “DIP” was available in fall of ’08 into ’09 is fantasy. Everyone knows we were in the midst of the greatest financial meltdown since the 1930’s.

Finally, Obama’s Auto Taskforce did do a good job killing all the sacred cows. There was dramatic pain for all.

What more can I say, it is very disappointing.

Mike Jackson

Chairman & CEO

AutoNation

So why did the Romney’s latest comments drive Jackson to write such a response? Jackson answered C-Suite’s questions candidly.

LL: This is not the first time Gov. Romney has blasted the auto bailout. Some say this is a tactic for his image—that he is an experienced businessman who understands that sometimes companies need to feel the pain in order to turnaround. As a CEO, what do you think of this tactic?

MJ: We share a belief in free enterprise and the importance of the consequences of failure, risk and reward. I think 90% of America agrees that government bailouts are in principle wrong and against free enterprise. Unfortunately, the catastrophe in ’08 was so calamitous that government actions were necessary to avoid a great depression. Sometimes reality trumps principle and a courageous leader will understand that and will take the leap even when it is dramatically unpopular.

LL: You were in numerous discussions during the crisis with the Auto Czar. We all know we were on the edge of a cliff and the cliff was crumbling. If Romney was President during that time and let the autos fail where would the US economy be right now?

MJ: My belief is that if he was the President at that moment, he would have lead and acted as Bush and Obama did. However, if he had let GM and Chrysler liquidate—which would have dominoed and crushed the entire supplier system—we would have had a systemic shutdown of the entire US auto industry, millions of jobs lost, a depression and 20% unemployment.

LL: What do you think of Mitt’s assertion that private financing “DIP” was available in fall of ’08 into ’09?

MJ: That is pure fantasy and you have to ask, what he was doing in ’08 and ’09 that he did not see this.

LL: Based on this op-ed do you think Romney has what it takes to be President and turn this economy around?

MJ: I struggle with this question. He is a bright, astute, successful businessman. That leads me to say yes. Then I read this Op-Ed piece and just scratch my head. That leaves me ambivalent.

LL: Romney has called this bailout "crony capitalism on a grand scale" and said Obama saved the automakers because of the labor unions. Is the Governor desperately trying to make this a Dem vs. GOP issue?

MJ: There are plenty of examples of crony capitalism that must end. It is incompatible with free enterprise. The auto bailout is not one of them.

LL: As CEO of the nation's largest car dealer, what is your message to Governor Romney?

MJ: Sometimes when leaders get it right, like Bush and Obama—who were in the midst of a crisis and had the courage to act—you have to acknowledge it.

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A Senior Talent Producer at CNBC, and author of "Thriving in the New Economy:Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds."

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