The entire political world is abuzz today after Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention. The popular view is that it was a colossal mistake for the GOP to allow Eastwood to go onstage without any prior knowledge of what he would say in his speech. If nothing else, it stole attention away from Romney’s acceptance speech.
Eastwood's speech was originally scheduled for 3 ½ minutes, but it ran for almost 12 minutes of primetime coverage. It immediately became a trending topic of social media. A new Twitter account, @InvisibleObama, amassed close to 40,000 followers within hours of Eastwood’s speech. Cable news pundits weighed in immediately after the speech.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow said, “the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a political convention in my entire life … and it will be the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen if I live to be a hundred.” Fox News'Chris Wallace took the high road and avoided any controversy by saying, “Let me say that I get paid to review politicians. There’s no way I’m going to touch Clint Eastwood’s performance tonight.” GOP strategist Steven Schmidt said, “It’s unfortunate that he was out there. I feel bad for him. It was a mistake by the campaign to put him out there. He’s an 82-year-old man. We should give him a break.”
Meanwhile, "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer said the speech was a political disaster, shifting attention from Romney to the loopy actor addressing an empty chair. His colleague Norah O'Donnell said Friday morning that it was the “not good, the bad and the very ugly." Not surprisingly, comedians lit up the Twitter world. Chris Rock tweeted, "Clint Eastwood on the phone with Obama now: 'It all went according to plan, sir.” Patton Oswalt sent out a number of tweets including, "To restore balance to the Universe, Obama must have Tommy Chong onstage at the DNC talking to a steak." And "I love you, Clint. I always will. But you changed the theme of the RNC from 'WE BUILT THIS' to 'I CAN'T WATCH THIS'." Bob Newhart took umbrage at Eastwood stealing his bit. Newhart tweeted, "I heard that Clint Eastwood was channeling me at the RNC. My lawyers and I are drafting our lawsuit... #RNC #ClintEastwood #rnc2012 #GOP2012," referring to his old bit of talking to an empty chair. Obama campaign official Lis Smith tweeted “Clint Eastwood, Ted Nugent, & Donald Trump ... MittRomney’s team sure knows how to pick ‘em.”
Romney supporters and advisers' reactions ranged from finger-pointing to damage control. “Not me,” said an exasperated-looking senior adviser, when asked who was responsible for Eastwood’s speech. But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. One senior adviser called it “an honor that a great American icon would come and talk about the failure of the current president and the promise of the future one. He spoke from the heart with a classic improv sketch which everyone at the convention loved.” Ann Romney, making the rounds of the morning talk shows, said Eastwood was a “unique guy and he did a unique thing. We appreciated Clint’s support.” Others, like Donald Trump, thought Clint was great, "I loved watching Clint Eastwood last night -- he was terrific!" while Blake Shelton wrote, "I.Love.ClintEastwood." Country legend Charlie Daniels tweeted his support with a classic, "Clint Eastwood made my day."
Personally, I cringed as I watched it live. But after watching it again, I think he was unintentionally funny. He took swipes at all politicians, mocking them for pandering for votes. He disagreed with the Republican Party on Afghanistan. And he took some good shots at Obama. “So, Mr. President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them?” was a good zinger. He got off another good shot when he described crying at the 2008 election of Obama. “Mr. Obama won the election. And though I was not a big supporter, I was watching that night… I was even crying. And then finally -- and I haven’t cried that hard since I found out that there are 23 million unemployed people in this country.” Finally, he articulated the thoughts of millions of voters when he said, "we don't have to … vote for somebody that we don't really even want in office just because they seem to be nice guys. ... when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.”
Those remarks lead me to believe that it wasn’t so much improv as much as he just lost his place or forgot his lines. Give him a break, he’s an 82 year old actor and he just flubbed some of the lines. Where were the cue cards and teleprompters? Why didn’t the director yell cut? Where were the Saturday Night Live producers when you needed them? It was supposed to be sharp political satire. I’m sure Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert weren’t a consideration, but was Dennis Miller unavailable?