DETROIT -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney defended his 2008 call to "let Detroit go bankrupt" after more than 100 autoworkers protested his appearance Thursday at a suburban diner.
"If he had been in the White House, we wouldn't have made it through," said David Sudek, 56, of Livonia.
Sudek, a retired Ford auto worker, carried a sign with the word "Mitt" with a circle and a slash through it.
Romney didn't address the workers outside the restaurant, but told one as he was leaving that if the automakers had "gone through regular bankruptcy, we'd have saved $17 billion."
Romney elaborated later in the morning. He said he called for structured bankruptcies for the automakers so they could cut debt, reduce costs and survive, a course they largely followed in 2009.
Romney said he would have offered government loan guarantees, but not direct government investment in the companies.
"It would have been best if auto companies had done that on their own, directly, and gone through the bankruptcy process without having taking $17 billion from government," Romney said.
"It would have been best not to have had the president and the government put their hands on the bankruptcy process and basically give the ownership of the enterprise, General Motors in this case, to the United Auto Workers.
"I believe that bailouts are not the answer."
Romney wouldn't say whether he thought the companies could have obtained necessary financing without government aid.
"The idea of just writing a check, which is what the auto executives were asking for, was not the right course," he said.
"The idea of avoiding bankruptcy, as the UAW argued, was also not the right course."
Romney critics insisted the companies couldn't have survived without the help from Washington.
"If President (Barack) Obama had followed his advice," Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said, "the auto companies wouldn't have gotten any help and all the people would be out of work."