Chrysler’s ‘halftime’ ad riles GOP

Rove paints Eastwood-narrated spot as serving Obama re-election agenda

Chrysler’s Super Bowl halftime spot was themed in American greatness, an inspirational reminder of the country’s capacity for rebound and, with Clint Eastwood as narrator, a message of reassurance. But by Monday morning, Karl Rove was on Fox News, saying he was “offended” by the spot and accusing the White House of “using our tax dollars to buy political advertising.”

The two-minute commercial for the automaker, “It’s halftime in America,” was generally regarded as one of the more impressive spots of the Super Bowl, with Eastwood pointing to the revival of Detroit as something that can happen in the rest of the country as well.

“It seems like we have lost our heart at times,” Eastwood says in his whispery voice. “The fog, discord and division made it hard to see what lies ahead. But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one.”

But the ad — which evokes Ronald Reagan’s famous 1984 “Morning in America” re-election spots — quickly took on a political tinge. Former White House senior advisor David Axelrod tweeted shortly after it aired that it was a “powerful spot.” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said, “Saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on.” He was referring to a spot from Chrysler from last year, featuring Eminem and the slogan, “Imported from Detroit.”

The White House denied that it had anything to do with the spot, but replace car with candidate and the spot gels with the aims of Obama’s re-election campaign.

In his State of the Union speech and in campaign appearances, Obama has been highlighting the revival of Detroit and his administration’s decision to bail out the automakers, something that GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney opposed. The spot’s positive message — “halftime” — also has parallels to Obama’s theme that there is more to be done in a second term.

Chrysler and Eastwood denied that the ad had any kind of alternative meaning beyond its explicit message.

“It was meant to be a message about just about job growth and the spirit of America,” Eastwood told a producer of “The O’Reilly Factor.” “I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK.”

A longtime Republican, Eastwood also added that he is “certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama.”

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a radio interview that the spot has “zero political content.”

“I think we need to be careful, and God knows, I mean I can’t stop anybody from associating themselves with a message, but it was not intended to be any type of political overture on our part,” he said. “We are as apolitical as you can make us.”

It may be halftime in America, but it’s still early in 2012, an election year.