The music couldn’t have been more fitting when Clint Eastwood walked on the Republican National Convention stage to a rendition of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’s theme.
Eastwood’s speech, though, was more bad than ugly and far more ugly than good.
In 12 rambling minutes, Eastwood both wowed and puzzled. His more lucid and plain-spoken points were lost amid a meandering and muttering monologue involving suggestive crudities and an imaginary President Barack Obama in an empty chair.
But the bizarre performance art Thursday at a national convention reflected less poorly on Eastwood (aging actors are supposed to be eccentric), than on Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign.
Indeed, if Romney wins the presidency this fall, it could be in spite of his campaign, not because of it.
Consider: on the most-important night of Romney’s political life, his campaign allowed an aging actor to participate in a highly scripted primetime event with no script. Actors love scripts. If they don’t have them, they can wind up talking to chairs.
And when Eastwood said he wanted to bring a chair onstage, why did no one simply say “no” or “why” or “have you had your Thorazine this morning?”
But Eastwood went up there, unplugged and unchecked with a piece of furniture.
The mockery followed within moments when someone launched a fake Twitter handle, “Invisible Obama,” which attracted nearly 67,000 followers in less than four days.
The president got in on the act, Tweeting a photo of him sitting with his advisors in a leather chair with “The President” embossed in bronze plate. “This seat’s taken,” the picture said.
A new internet meme was also born: “Eastwooding,” in which people photograph themselves next to an empty chair. And, four days on, pundits were still talking about Eastwood’s speech as a mistake.
This won’t kill Romney’s campaign. He gave a solid speech Thursday when he was nominated. He remains essentially tied neck-and-neck with Obama in crucial swing states like Florida.
But speeches matter and have an effect. That’s why the campaign scheduled Eastwood in primetime, at 10 p.m. After the threat of Hurricane Isaac dampened the mood and delayed the convention, Eastwood’s hot air was not much help.
Eastwood’s speech was so odd that, when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio followed him, he seemed to joke about what Eastwood was drinking when he took a sip from a water bottle at the podium.
“I think I just drank Clint Eastwood’s water,” Rubio smiled.
Unlike Eastwood’s speech, Rubio’s was scripted. Too scripted. He had written it himself. He could have given it with his eyes closed.
Instead, the convention staff — which is really an offshoot of Romney’s campaign — put the words on a teleprompter. It seemed to distract Rubio, who appeared out of rhythm. He muffed a closing line when he called for more government instead of less.
Another problem with Rubio’s speech: it was leaked hours before by an unknown convention/Romney staffer. It took a little freshness away from the speech. And it undoubtedly rattled him just a tad before he introduced Romney and followed Eastwood.
Rubio’s speech almost never happened anyway thanks, again, to Romney’s campaign staffers. They wanted to boot Rubio from the primetime slot at one point. And, last month when Rubio was launching the tour to plug his best-selling book, anonymous Romney staffers falsely leaked word that Rubio wasn’t on the vice-presidential shortlist at all.