In each case, Romney’s campaign played with estranging the party’s most high-profile Hispanic, who can help deliver votes in the biggest swing state in the nation, Florida.
By Sunday, Rubio’s speech was an afterthought on the news talk shows, which focused on the speeches of Romney and Eastwood in almost equal measures.
That’s damaging. When an unflinching Republican governor like Scott Walker said on MSNBC that he “cringed” during parts of the speech, it’s a problem. When Romney’s wife, Ann, was uncomfortable in discussing the speech the following day, it’s a problem.
Just after Romney spoke, the campaign put out a defensive statement praising Eastwood’s speech for firing up the crowd. It did at times. But Romney already had those votes in the hall. Many at home might have a different reaction, especially after seeing replayed snippets of it.
“He spoke from the heart with a classic improv sketch which everyone at the convention loved,” Stuart Stevens, a top Romney adviser told the New York Times. He said it was “an honor that a great American icon would come and talk about the failure of the current president.”
Stevens provided Eastwood some talking points, which the actor incorporated. Eastwood said he “cried” for the 23 million unemployed people in the United States. And he won big applause for mentioning the president’s failed promise to close Gitmo.
At that point, Eastwood pretended to be interrupted by Invisible Obama.
“I thought maybe it’s an excuse and, ah, oh,” he fumbled. “What do you mean: ‘shut up’?”
Eastwood then suggestively faulted Obama because he “didn’t check with the Russians” before the Afghanistan invasion that began under President Bush. Then, in talking about bringing the troops home, Eastwood pretended he was interrupted by Invisible Obama again.
“I’m not going to shut up. It’s my turn,” Eastwood said.
“What?” Eastwood continued in his mock discussion with the empty chair. “What do you want me to tell Romney? I can’t tell him to do that, can’t tell him to do that to himself … you’re absolutely crazy.”
Yes. The Invisible Obama in the chair on stage is the crazy one.
Eastwood also said lawyers shouldn’t be president, ignoring the law degree held by Romney — or the profession, say, of iconic presidents like John Adams or Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party.
Whether any of this matters or not is unclear in a campaign where a top advisor said “we're not going let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”
In calling for Obama to be “let go,” Eastwood made a slashing motion across his neck — an act that would earn a player a 15-yard penalty in college football. The crowd cheered and chanted: “Let him go!”
Eastwood also sounded nonpartisan notes when he pointed out that “politicians are employees of ours. They’re just going to come around and beg for votes every few years. It’s the same old deal.”
It is. But an actor arguing with an empty chair at a convention? That’s definitely new.
“We don’t have to be mental masochists and vote for somebody that we don’t really want in office just because they seem to be nice guys or maybe not-so-nice guys if you look at some of the recent ads going out there,” Eastwood said.
“Ok,” he closed. “You want to make my day, huh?”
The crowd cheered.
“Alright,” he said, reprising his Dirty Harry trademark. “I’ll start it, you finish it. Go Ahead…”
The crowd roared back: “Make my day!”
It sure didn’t make Romney’s, though.