"I don't like the idea that you have good bailouts and bad bailouts,” Paul said. “If bailouts are bad, they're bad."
Romney returned criticism on supporting other bailouts to Santorum, arguing that the former Pennsylvania senator supported assistance that was given to airline companies after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the U.S. steel industry.
"My view is you have to industries that are in trouble go through bankruptcy," Romney said.
Romney referenced a widely-read op-ed he wrote in the 2008 in the New York Times, which was titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Democrats have harped on the article, saying the auto industry would be worse off now if President Obama had listened to his advice.
"I wrote an op-ed in the paper that said 'absolutely not,’” Romney said of the article.
A pro-Obama super-PAC, Priorities USA, released a campaign ad this week targeting Romney for his opposition to the auto industry bailouts, saying the former governor did not want to help the American auto companies based in Michigan in late 2008.
"His message was clear," the ad says of Romney, before quoting the former Massachusetts governor saying "let Detroit go bankrupt."
"Are those the values we want in an American president," a narrator asks at the end of the ad.
Romney wrote another op-ed on the auto bailouts in the Detroit News last week that argued that Obama should have allowed the two companies to go through a managed bankruptcy, a stance he reiterated in Wednesday night’s debate.
“The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse,” Romney wrote in the article. “I believe that without his intervention things there would be better."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed with Romney Wednesday, saying the decision about whether or not to bailout the U.S. auto companies was not a tough choice.
"There was a huge amount of the American auto industry that was just fine," he said, citing non-unionized factories in southern states like Tennessee and Alabama. "What you had was an unprecedented violation of U.S. bankruptcy law on behalf of Obama administration to pay off the [United Auto Workers.]"
The decision to bail out the companies appears to be popular with voters in Michigan. A poll released this week showed 63 percent of registered Michigan voters and 42 percent of likely voters in the state supported the federal government's decision to assist General Motors and Chrysler.
Fifty-eight percent of registered Michigan voters gave Obama a good or great deal of credit for the turnaround of the U.S. auto industry, compared to 37 percent who said he deserved not very much or no credit at all.