Slouching Towards Tampa (Truckin' edition)

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If he were put on an antique diving helmet and a gorilla suit and recite the Gettysburg Address from a diving board forty-three feet above a wading pool filled with piranhas, Mitt Romney still wouldn’t be the slightest bit interesting. Except, perhaps, to Jim Wilson, a retired insurance salesman whose fascination with Romney approaches idolatry, as noted in a previous edition of this column.

For reasons known only to Wilson, his Maker and possibly his therapist, back in 2011 the man began following the candidate all over the country, something even the Romney clan – wife Ann and sons Tagg, Tugg, Borg, Blip and Fauntleroy – seem reluctant to do. Wilson’s admiration was aptly characterized by the New York Times as “fanatical” in a May profile. Among other things, the article amusingly revealed the campaign’s initial suspicions about the man:

The Romney campaign kept its distance from him at first. Aides to Mr. Romney, nervous that a suddenly ubiquitous fan might prove a liability, went so far as to vet him. Finding nothing alarming, they began to see an upside to his doggedness and free labor.

Uh-huh. The “upside” being that despite Romney’s clearly absolute dearth of charisma, the campaign can always point to Wilson as evidence that the candidate is capable of some sort of quasi-human quasi-connection. In a reassuring sign of prudence, however, Wilson seems to realize that a face-to-face meeting with his hero just might kill the magic:

For many campaign volunteers, the reward for long hours is face time with the candidate. Mr. Wilson seems uninterested, repeatedly turning down invitations to meet with Mr. Romney backstage at events. They mostly exchange waves.

Wilson’s ’98 GMC 1500 already had a ton of miles on it when he decided to add another 40,000 or so by pointlessly tailing Romney, with the intended last stop being Romney’s inauguration:

His truck is about to hit the 300,000-mile mark and could use a few repairs. There is an oil leak… He thinks the truck can muddle through until Jan. 20, when he plans to park it, with the Secret Service’s blessing, somewhere on the National Mall in Washington.

As it happens, he thought wrong. The truck’s last stop turned out to be on I-70 in Pennsylvania, engulfed in unexplained flames at the roadside not far from where Romney’s deluded quest to win the White House will mathematically expire on November 6.

What to do? Sure, Mitt could have given Wilson one of Ann Romney’s Cadillacs; it’s doubtful she’d have noticed one was missing. But after dodging criminal charges in Wisconsin over Sandwichgate, Romney is likely more circumspect now about doling out freebies.

A week passed, and the campaign at last announced it was loaning Wilson a 2003 Chevy pickup. Not a bad compromise, but I can’t wait to see if there’s an update on all this after Romney gets his butt handed to him on November 6. Another of Wilson’s addictions is pipe tobacco, and it won’t surprise me at all if the Romney campaign bills him for cleaning and fumigation costs.