Republican National Convention: Clint Eastwood and Empty Chair Steal Mitt Romney’s Thunder

Clay Aiken vs. John Rich
The musicians feud over the GOP convention.
2012 RNC Recap No. 1
Highlights of the first night of TV coverage of the GOP confab.
2012 RNC Recap No. 2
Paul Ryan comes out swinging.
At last, on its final night, the Republican National Convention was graced with some bona fide, megawatt Hollywood star power — maybe too much star power.

Clint Eastwood’s few minutes at the podium seem to upstage the evening’s main event, nominee Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. In fact, Eastwood’s rambling, ad libbed vaudeville routine, in which he argued with an empty chair that he pretended was President Barack Obama, was so strange that it seemed all anyone watching could talk about (judging by the Twitter response).

But it did make for riveting, must-watch television.

While viewers at home may have been scratching their heads, the audience in the hall went wild for the 82-year-old screeen legend, who veered from one topic to another in a speech that was clearly off the cuff.

By the end, when he got the crowd to utter his famous line, “Go ahead, make my day,” it didn’t matter that he had offered only minimal praise for Romney and running mate Paul Ryan.

Why didn’t it matter and how did Romney follow Eastwood’s act?

He’d just delivered a strong (virtual) b***hslap to the (imaginary) opponent, and he had just created the viral moment that would keep people talking about the convention all weekend.

Eastwood’s comic aggression was even more jarring if you watched the whole evening, not just the final hour as shown on the networks.

Several members of Romney’s church gave testimonials to the candidate’s personal generosity with his time, money, and attention. This painted a picture of Romney as compassionate — in contrast to the recent Democratic ad blitz painting him as an uncaring tycoon who profited from the outsourcing of countless jobs as leader of private equity investment firm Bain Capital.

There was also a performance from gray-haired, harmonica-wielding former American Idol champ Taylor Hicks, which reinforced Ryan’s jibe at Romney’s old-school musical taste.

And Romney’s own speech was full of emotion, whether it was pride in his wife and sons, or concern for the unemployed, or sympathy with those who voted for Obama’s theme of Hope and Change four years ago but were now disappointed that they were worse off than before. Sure, he criticized Obama, but more in sorrow than in anger — “I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed”.

He was so full of I-feel-your-pain empathy and eagerness to seem like a warm human and not a number-crunching android that he might have been mistaken for a Democrat. Indeed, he made his entrance not from backstage but from the convention floor, spending several minutes shaking hands with delegates, in a way that no presidential nominee has since one of Romney’s predecessors as governor of Massachusetts, Democrat Michael Dukakis.

In that context, Eastwood’s diatribe seemed especially out of place. Plus, it went on twice as long as it was supposed to, delaying Romney’s speech until well after 10:30 ET, so that around half of it was delivered after 11, when local newscasts may have cut him off. Romney’s speech, toward which the convention had been building all week, now seemed like an afterthought.

Here was Romney’s best chance to introduce himself to America, and all people could think about was the man in the chair who wasn’t there, and the oldtimer who’d hijacked the evening in order to wrestle a ghost.

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