LAS VEGAS - Mitt Romney donned a cloak of Secret Service protection yesterday that, for all intents and purposes, he may never take off.
As a Republican presidential frontrunner, his fund-raising and delegate count qualified him for security from the same government agency that protects the person he hopes to oust from office, President Obama.
Romney is not the first 2012 Republican presidential contender to rate Secret Service protection; that comfort was briefly granted to onetime rival Herman Cain who, depending upon who you believe, faced threats, crowds that had grown too uncontrollable, or simply asked for the protection.
Regardless, Secret Service coverage conveys a certain level of stature upon any protectee, be they a presidential candidate, foreign dignitary, or government official such as the Treasury secretary or Secretary of Homeland Security.
The former retains it because their Cabinet office once oversaw the Secret Service; the latter has it because the Secret Service now falls under the supervision of their post-9/11 department.
For Romney, though, the conference of Secret Service protection doesn’t just signal his arrival as a presidential contender; it harkens back to a way of life in which he was most comfortable as Massachusetts governor.
It is no stretch to say that no recent governor relished the protective role of his security force as much as Romney.
The State Police troopers in the gubernatorial protective detail are among the agency’s elite, and they protect the governor 24/7 against all foes, foreign and domestic.
But in Romney’s case, they also provided a buffer that ensured the former businessman’s sense of order, and limited his exposure to unscripted encounters.
During Romney’s four years as governor, the troopers reserved one of the two elevators outside the Corner Office solely for Romney’s use. They also erected velvet ropes in front of his office, allowing only those approved to enter.
The beefy men and unflinching women of the detail ensured that few approached the governor who were not expected.
In that distance, Romney gained a sense of personal comfort, much like he had when he worked behind the secure offices of a private-sector business suite.
It’s no surprise that activists who wanted to highlight immigration or gay rights issues - depending on the story - chose Wednesday to make their move.
It was the final day that Romney was under the protection of a private force of former Secret Service agents, a capable group but not in the numbers - or with the federal arrest powers - of an active Secret Service force.
During Romney’s appearance outside Minneapolis, they doused him with the shower of a “glitter-bomb,” brightly colored sparkles that he brushed off and dispensed as mere “confetti” celebrating his Florida primary win the night before.
But safe to say the odds of pulling that kind of stunt again increased greatly yesterday, as Romney gained a phalanx of protectors who will not only erect barriers to separate him from crowds, but also ring him with agents who not only look to the left and right of him, but also into the crowd before him and that at his back.
The agents will also provide covered arrivals and controlled departures, preventing the unscripted encounters that have always seemed to rattle Romney.
From now through whenever he ends his campaign, Romney will be protected both on the trail and at home. He will travel in a motorcade, its armor and length increasing as he may near the presidency.
He will also stay in hotels and homes that are under Secret Service guard.
Eventually, the protection may extend to his wife, Ann, and even their five sons and 16 grandchildren, depending on the threat assessment.
And it will only increase exponentially should he be elected president.
Then, no one save his staff, family, and closest friends will approach him without having first passed through a metal detector or had their background checked.
And the protection, then, would not only last through his four or eight years in the White House, but for 10 years afterward.
At 64 today and 65 by the time he would be sworn in as president, that would ensure coverage at least until he was 79 and up until he was 83.
Congress changed the law in the 1990s so that any president elected after Jan. 1, 1997, and his or her spouse, would receive Secret Service protection for only 10 years.
Previously, presidents and first ladies had lifetime coverage, explaining the security that extends today to Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, George and Barbara Bush, and Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton (though currently she is protected as secretary of state by the State Department’s own diplomatic force).
Beyond the comfort the Secret Service may provide Romney personally, it also ensures the best possible chance of the democratic process moving forward uninhibited.
Secret Service protection will let Romney, and any of the other candidates deemed worthy of the same, have the best chance possible to let the whole of the American electorate decide whether they should be elected or remain as president of the United States.
It mitigates against the chances of a lone wolf like an Arthur Bremer, or a Lynette “Squeaky” Fromm, or a John Hinckley, trying to cast that vote themselves.Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.