Mitt Romney: An Edsel not a Lincoln?

In Michigan, the home of U.S. car manufacturing, it appears more certain than ever: Romney is certainly no Lincoln, but an Edsel: unloved, unlamented and looking increasingly unelectable

Mitt Romney checks out a Santorum's NASCAR advertising
Dr. James Boys
On 29 February 2012 10:54

Once upon a time a son of Michigan produced an offspring that was assumed to be a sure thing. With a proud heritage and great genes, this was a guaranteed winner! Expectations were high and interest soared amongst the gathering crowds, eager to see what the fuss was all about. When they finally got to see this creation up close, to examine it in detail, the reaction was one of great disappointment and their attention went elsewhere, turned off by the bland mediocrity and conventionality of what they had been offered.

This was the notorious Ford Edsel, named after the son of the company’s founder and a byword for failure. 

If this tale sounds oddly familiar, it should…

After weeks of anticipation and doomsday scenarios of the “what if” variety, Mitt Romney last night managed to scrape a victory in one of at least two states that he calls ‘home.’

As the son of a former governor, Mitt Romney simply could not afford to lose Michigan last night. A defeat would not necessarily have cost him the Republican nomination, but it would have gone a very long way to remove any of the remaining credibility his campaign still desperately clings to.


A candidate’s home state should be enemy territory for his opponents; a place they fear to tread. It certainly was for Newt Gingrich, who didn’t bother with the state, choosing to focus instead on his home state of Georgia.

The fact that Rick Santorum forced Romney to spend so much time, money and effort to secure his home state speaks volumes to the nature of both campaigns. A week ago Santorum appeared to be ahead in poll after poll. A few mis-steps here, a bad debate performance there, an un-necessary pop at fellow Catholic JFK and a diversion into social policy and attacks on wanting to send kids to college along the way, appear to have dented his chances of victory. Sometimes in politics, as in life, less is more and this is a lesson that Santorum has yet to learn.

The dilemma appears to be that Romney is constantly fire fighting. Rather than building a head of steam he is constantly forced to spend millions of dollars on attack ads highlighting the deficiencies in his Republican opponents, simply to keep his well coiffed head above water. This should be enough to secure the nomination, but it will leave little in reserve with which to defeat Barack Obama in the general election.

As it was, Romney’s victory was far from convincing, taking 41 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 37.9 percent.

He will, of course, claim that a victory is a victory is a victory, but it is not as clear-cut as that. The headlines will go to Romney but what about the all-important delegates? Due to the decision to replicate the Democratic Party’s (disastrous) proportional based system in some states, Michigan was not a winner take all state, meaning that whilst Romney won the headlines, Santorum managed to pick up a heap of delegates and therefore could take great heart and electoral cheer from his performance last night.

In contrast with Michigan, Romney won by a mile in Arizona, or at least 47.3 percent to Santorum’s 26.6 percent. There wasn’t much to argue with here, in a winner take all state, that left nothing but the dry arid desert sand in the mouths of Santorum and Newt Gingrich, for who last night was a particularly poor night, coming in fourth in Michigan and a distant third in Arizona. Lest anyone forget Ron Paul, he came in third in Michigan on 11.6 percent and a disappointing fourth in Arizona on 8.4 percent.

Up next is the Super bowl of the Political Season: Super Tuesday – an institution since its introduction in 1988 and a vital day in the GOP primary calendar. March 6th will see elections held in ten states: Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. Telling will be the results in Ohio and Virginia. Romney defeats there will re-open serious questions as to his capacity to seal the deal with grass roots Republicans.

However, despite the importance of Super Tuesday, the decision of Texas to postpone its primary will ensure that up to a third of all available delegates will not be allocated until the end of May/beginning of June. This, if nothing else, is a major reason why apparent no hopers are refusing to quit the race just yet.

When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency following Nixon’s inglorious departure from the Oval Office, he conceded that he was “a Ford, not a Lincoln.” It was a statement of humility that read well on paper but did little to inspire a sense of potential greatness in the new president.

Continuing the vehicular metaphor in light of the vote in Michigan (home of U.S. car manufacturing) it appears more certain now than ever, that Romney is certainly no Lincoln, but rather an Edsel: unloved, unlamented and looking increasingly unelectable.

Dr. James D. Boys is an Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond, the American International University in London. See his website at and follow him on twitter @jamesdboys

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