Chrysler’s Super Bowl commercial featuring Clint Eastwood touched off a post-game political fight Monday over whether the ad was an endorsement of President Obama.
Karl Rove and other Republicans argued the ad echoed Obama’s reelection themes, namely, campaigning on the revitalization of the auto industry.
“I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising,” Rove said.
The CEO of Fiat, the Italian carmaker that purchased Chrysler in a deal the federal government helped negotiate, denied Monday that the ad was politically motivated.
“It has zero political content,” Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said Monday in an interview with Detroit radio station 760 AM WJR.
Eastwood also defended the commercial and said he was not supporting Obama or any other politician.
The commercial, titled “It’s Halftime, America,” touted the recovery of U.S. auto companies after the bailouts of 2008 and 2009. The U.S. government lent millions to General Motors and Chrysler, and the companies have seen their fortunes increase along with fellow American car company Ford, which did not accept a federal bailout.
“It was not intended to be any type of political overture on our part,” Marchionne said. “We are as apolitical as you can make us … I wasn’t expressing a view and certainly nobody inside Chrysler was attempting to influence decisions.”
White House officials and Obama’s campaign praised the ad after its airing.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on Twitter that saving the U.S. auto industry was something Eastwood and rapper Eminem “can agree on.” The tweet was a reference to Chrysler’s popular Super Bowl ad of a year ago featuring Eminem, who is from Detroit.
President Obama’s campaign manager David Axelrod tweeted: “Powerful spot. Did Clint shoot that, or just narrate it?”
Democrats in Congress also offered praise for the Chrysler commercial, as well as for Obama’s handling of the auto bailouts.
“It certainly put out a great message for Detroit’s comeback,” Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said on Ed Schultz’s radio show.
“He got a lot of criticism at the time,” he added of Obama’s stance on the auto bailouts. “The fact is they are wrong; President Obama was right. He was right to stand up for American workers.”
Obama and other Democrats have made clear they see the success of the auto bailouts as a weakness for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in 2008 in which he argued against the federal government assisting General Motors and Chrysler. The article was titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” and in it Romney said giving the auto companies financial assistance in 2008 would be worse for them than allowing them to go bankrupt.
“If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye,” Romney wrote in the article. “It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.”
Romney has since defended his position, saying that the conditions he described were eventually placed on the auto companies by the federal government.