Michigan win is just 1 sparkplug

Congratulations to Mitt Romney on his Michigan victory — won with optimism or pandering, depending on who you ask. But hey, in the dreadfully divided Republican Party of 2008, a win is a win.

As Michigan residents struggle with the highest unemployment in the nation, Romney wisely focused his message on the economy and it worked. But can he replicate that success in other states, casting off two other winners for the nomination? Even with the highest delegate count, which Romney has thus far, I highly doubt it.

Romney’s supporters talked about how comfortable and energized he felt in Michigan. If your father had served three terms as governor and been president of American Motors you would have felt comfortable campaigning there too.

Romney felt so at ease he had another conversion — anybody keeping count? Yes, Romney is suddenly a champion of the auto industry. Adopting a convenient pro-emissions stance, contradicting efforts he made on behalf of fuel efficiency as Massachusetts governor, Romney hammered away at Washington politicians like John McCain who had just voted to alter Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for the first time in 32 years to require cars to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

It’s easy to understand why no one wanted to hear about job training from dour old McCain. After the Straight Talker grumbled that those auto jobs aren't coming back, Romney earnestly vowed to bring those good jobs back, but never explained how. Rather than detail just how he could confront the consequences of globalization, slow the acceleration of home foreclosures, mitigate the high price of oil or dent an alarmingly rapid rise in bankruptcies, it was easier to stroll down memory lane and wax nostalgic about Michigan. In one of his delightful odes to the state he left as a teenager, Romney said, “The skies are cloudy all day, the trees are all the right height, people talk without an accent and most of the cars on the road are American-made — as they ought to be.” This from a man who drove a Saab and a BMW until his recent purchase of a Mustang. And accents are still a problem in 2008 America?

A favorite story on the Michigan trail was the 60th birthday present Romney’s sons gave him last year, a 1962 Rambler that had to be pushed home. Does Romney know that struggling middle-class families don’t purchase non-functioning cars for their birthdays? I don’t think so. Romney seems earnest, and truly nice, but out of it.

Much has been written about Romney’s business acumen, his impressive record and résumé. He has it on paper, I concur. There was enormous speculation about whether his Mormon religion could stop his rise to the nomination, and Romney responded bravely with his speech about religion. Ultimately, though, it is his Guinness-level flip-flopping alone that will keep Romney from the prize. If he is “right” on every issue, and so electable, why hasn’t the party embraced him? When the race began, it was the exceedingly handsome Romney who always appeared “the most presidential” at the televised GOP debates. But the internal debate over whether Romney lacks a core has raged within the Republican establishment for months. The party knows in a 49-49 nation it cannot win without independents, and independents tend to reject inauthentic converts. Unlike Romney, consider that Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Fred Thompson can all be considered “authentic” candidates.

Next to the others, Romney looks like the lovable Rambler that can’t go the distance.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.