Likely 2012 Republican Presidential contender Tim Pawlenty slammed the GM and Chrysler bailouts today to reporters. He didn't just take issue with certain aspects of the bailouts, such as putting unions ahead of bondholders, but the very idea of a government aided bankruptcy for the auto companies. He favored "traditional bankruptcy" instead, which would have been free of government control. It's not that I doubt that he believes it now, but this is something much easier to slam a year later than to have made the call at the time.
I'm not sure if it was asked, but the obvious question is what would have happened if they could not get funding and were forced to liquidate? The answer would undoubtedly be that such things happen in a free market system and it's not the government's job to bailout failing companies. People will still buy cars, they'll just be made someplace else.
This will likely be only acceptable position for Republicans to take who are running for President, even if they supported bailing the companies out. It's the consistent ideological position, but I have my doubts that today's Republicans would let stand by and watch GM collapse.
There is no downside to criticizing the Bush and Obama approach for Pawlenty or any of the other Republicans today. Regardless of what they would have done had they been in power, it's a good way to score points with the base and it has no bearing on what actually happened.
My guess is that most Republicans would have reluctantly given in and done something to save the auto industry because they wouldn't want their lasting legacy to be the president who "lost" the Big 3. This isn't just an academic exercise for candidates either.
It's not ridiculous to think that the new GM or Chrysler might be in dire financial straights again in a few years, and that they could be in power while it's happening. They'll probably have painted themselves into a corner, where it would be damaging to go back from (remember "read my lips"?).
Would Pawlenty have bailed out GM and Chrysler if he had been president in 2008? Well, he supported Henry Paulson's $700 Wall Street Rescue, so it's not out of the realm of possibility. As much as any conservative wants to shrink government, it would be pretty tempting to throw a few billion (pocket change for the federal government) at the problem to avoid watching the epic collapse of one of America's most beloved industries. Or even to just delay it until it's on someone else's watch.
The true ideologues probably would have bailed out no one, but none of them have even a remote chance of winning the nomination. With few exceptions, most of these candidates don't know what they would have done, but that won't stop them from slamming the auto industry bailouts for the next few years.