About eight months ago, I was tasked with an assignment: Starting in South Carolina, I would follow Governor Mitt “Tin Man” Romney on the long trail, from winter to summer of his life’s most important year. My job was to get as close to the candidate as possible on a mission of the spirit: to search for signs of genuine life, to spy out those remnants of the candidate’s humanity not yet blown to smithereens in the psyops war between the campaign and the press. In that time, I have learned a few things. Those things are these.

Thanks to his campaign’s all but unprecedented restrictive vigilance in the media-access department, trying to penetrate the veneer of the Romney brand is like trying to split a billiard ball with a butter knife. Getting anywhere close to him will require you to suffer repeated, soul-depleting exposures to his campaign anthem, Kid Rock’s “Born Free.” You will also endure an uncountable number of citizens reciting this sentence verbatim: “I like his business background, and I think he’s got the best chance of beating Obama.” You will hear people applauding with dire fervor for huge transnational oil-bearing tubes, for voter-identification laws, for Mitt Romney’s plan to defund PBS: “Big Bird is gonna have to get used to cornflakes.” In lieu of actual access, you will be reduced to spending many stageside hours formulating new descriptions of the governor’s hair and speculating on which side he dresses to. (The evidence suggests it’s the left.) You will come to sort of adore Ann Romney and to believe her when she says that when Mitt wondered aloud whether he was the right man for the job, she asked her husband, “Can you save America?”