Well, that was different.
I’m not much of a Rachel Maddow sycophant, but I have to agree with her that Clint Eastwood’s 11-minute performance at last night’s RNC was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a major party convention. Maddow was left speechless – for once – and so was I by the surreal sight of Mr. Eastwood rambling and ad-libbing to an empty chair. Between the mumbling and the fly-away hairdo, Mr. Eastwood came off less like Dirty Harry and more like the old guy down the block who was pretty normal and neighborly in a curmudgeonly way until the day he started cutting the lawn in his underwear with a katana strapped to his back.
His performance makes two things abundantly clear:
1) Nobody – I mean NOBODY – vetted Eastwood’s remarks. Not even so much as a “Mr. Eastwood, what do you need with the chair?”
2) Actors without good writers to give them good material are rarely worth listening to.
You are, of course, welcome to disagree with me on this point, but I am 100% sure that Team Romney counts this as a hot mess that is stepping all over the next-day coverage of what was supposed to be “All About Mitt.” Instead, The Big Speech (which in the words of Fox’s Chris Wallace was “workmanlike” at best) has to contend with headlines like:
- “After a Gunslinger Cuts Loose, Romney Aides Take Cover” – New York Times
- “Ann Romney: Eastwood Did “A Unique Thing” – CBS News
- “Clint Eastwood Riff Distracts From Successful Romney Convention” – Washington Post
- “Clint Eastwood Speech Backfires on Republicans” – Boston.com
- “Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention: effective, or strange?” – Christian Science Monitor
- “Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at RNC sparks Internet buzz” – NBC News
- “Clint Eastwood puts liberals in full panic mode” – New York Daily News
- “Eastwood mocked for kooky speech at GOP convention” – San Jose Mercury News
- “Clint Eastwood speech with empty chair upstages Mitt Romney at GOP convention” – Newsday
- “Eastwood, the empty chair and the speech everyone is talking about” – CNN
And on and on and on. As of now, Google News is serving up more than 1,500 stories related to the Eastwood speech. Every one of them distracts, detracts from or otherwise obscures the message Romney and company were hoping we’d be talking about today but aren’t.
Check out the New York Times‘ story this morning on who was responsible for this clusterfuck:
Clint Eastwood’s rambling and off-color endorsement of Mitt Romney on Thursday seemed to startle and unsettle even the candidate’s own top aides, several of whom made a point of distancing themselves from the decision to put him onstage without a polished script.
“Not me,” said an exasperated-looking senior adviser, when asked who was responsible for Mr. Eastwood’s speech. In late-night interviews, aides variously called the speech “strange” and “weird.” One described it as “theater of the absurd.”
Finger-pointing quickly ensued, suggesting real displeasure and even confusion over the handling of Mr. Eastwood’s performance, which was kept secret until the last minute.
A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood’s appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney’s top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens. This person said that there had been no rehearsal, to the surprise of the rest of the campaign team.
But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Mr. Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. Mr. Eastwood, however, delivered those points in a theatrical, and at times crass, way that caught Romney aides off guard, this person said.
Mr. Stevens, in an interview, said he would not discuss internal decision making but described Mr. Eastwood’s remarks as improvised.
There’s some profiles in courage there. I can hardly wait for a Romney presidency in which the aides race one another to their iPhones to rat out their colleagues – anonymously of course – when real decisions go wrong.
Couple last night’s mess with everything else that went wrong or off-message in Tampa (cancellation of Day 1, the Christie keynote (aka “It’s All About Me”), the cult of Paul Ryan, the peanut tossers, being upstaged by his wife and Condeleeza Rice, the untruths of the Ryan speech, the Ron Paul distractions) and this was NOT a good convention for Romney. Anne Romney, maybe, but not Mitt.
Yes, the GOP talking points would have us believe otherwise, but the reality is that Mitt Romney got less out of this convention than almost anyone. Instead of a bounce, I’m expecting more of a post-convention “thud” in the next set of polls.
Oh well, there’s still the debates. Governor Romney was pretty good in the Republican debates where he could play Snow White to the Seven Dwarfs but I’m not entirely sure he’ll come across so well in a one-on-one comparison with Obama.