Rush Limbaugh may be steering the GOP into another Democratic-friendly trap with his consistent bashing of the Chevy Volt.
America’s attempt to to one-up the Prius — with a car that was touted as the savior of GM for years before Obama was sworn in — became an important symbol for the administration, and thus an immediate whipping boy for Limbaugh. Right-wing pundits and Republicans have followed suit, putting them in the bewildering position of rooting against a product of American engineering and manufacturing.
This could be a problem.
“As for the Volt, it is emblematic of a larger problem the GOP has: the sense that they are rooting for America to fail,” Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and adviser to President Obama’s super PAC told TPM. “When a good jobs report comes out, Mitt Romney looks sad. When Clint Eastwood makes an unapologetic, patriotic Super Bowl ad for Chrysler, Karl Rove says it makes him sick. They booed a gay soldier at a GOP debate, and didn’t even want to give the President his due for ordering the mission that killed bin Laden. One wonders if they will be rooting for communist China during the summer Olympics.”
That’s the larger narrative to Democrats. But what about the Volt specifically? The car is an international award-winner and a rolling embodiment of the resurgence of the American auto industry. That’s the good news. It’s also a poster child for the problem environmental activists have pushing green vehicles into the mainstream. Sales of the car have been slower than expected, so GM shut down the line temporarily. As IdeaLab’s Carl Franzen noted, the news of the temporary shutdown was greeted with gloating from parts of the right.
Newt Gingrich famously attacked the Volt for being too small to fit a gun rack, and claimed that the hybrid was part of Obama’s plan to take away America’s gas guzzlers. GM refuted Gingrich on its corporate blog.
“Although we loaded the Volt with state-of-the-art safety features, we did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag,” reads a quote from GM’s CEO on the blog.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted a link Monday to a story about the Volt production shutdown, and included the hashtag #ObamaOnEmpty.
I asked the RNC whether it was worried dancing on the grave of the Volt might come back to bite them if the car fails.The RNC insisted no one is cheering for layoffs.
So what’s the story here? Is this dangerous for the GOP? I asked an expert. Edward Niedermeyer is an editor at TheTruthAboutCars and the author of a noted New York Times op-ed that called the Volt “G.M.’s Electric Lemon.”
He said at least some of the blame for the politicized nature of the car belongs to the Obama administration, which touted the Volt as key to its goal of getting 1 million electric and hybrid cars on the road by 2015. The Energy Department projected 500,000 Volts would be sold between 2011 and 2015 (120,000 units this year alone), a number that seems unattainable given the current sales figures.
So Obama may have opened the door when he made big promises about the car that was in the planning phases when the government bailed out GM. Niedermeyer noted that the car has been controversial among environmentalists, some of whom don’t think it’s electric enough, and has mostly sold to people making a median income of “something like $170,000 per year.”
“The left does not seem to be defending the Volt,” he said.
Because the car represents Obama’s push to revitalize the economy through green energy — which Republicans hate — the stage was set for the Volt to become a political football. And in due course, Niedermeyer said, Limbaugh pounced.
“The history of Volt-bashing is fairly long,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve seen for quite a while now.”
Limbaugh “selectively quoted,” Niedermeyer’s Times op-ed, setting off what would eventually become a general conservative wish for the vehicle to fail.
“That was the first real political bashing that I’m aware of,” Niedermeyer said. “In the bailout era, the Volt was present as sort of an argument [against GM], but it wasn’t until the bailout was done that the Volt became the symbol that it is today.”
So now the GOP is stuck. If Volt sales improve, Obama is somehow better off (even though the car seems to be falling wildly short of government expectations). If the Volt fails, that’s somehow a ding on Obama, even though in reality the real damage will be to the reputation of one of America’s corporate giants.
And of course, those blue-collar Reagan Democrat types whose jobs are on the line should the Volt go belly-up will be less than inclined to cross over to the GOP if the party’s candidate hoped the source of their livelihood would tank.
“This is another Rush Limbaugh hit job,” said a UAW official in Michigan. “This idea has taken hold that this is the electric car future that Obama pushed onto the companies, and therefore since it’s failing, he’s failing, and therefore that’s something to celebrate.”