There were children in the hall at the peak of primetime when Eastwood had a prop person bring a chair out upon the stage next to the podium and began an impromptu vaudeville routine with an empty chair with a pretend President Obama seated. Criticism of Eastwood’s performance has, some 24 hours after the event, poured in at an alarming rate. In fact, reviews continue to pour in on Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the RNC Thursday night, and “mixed” might be a charitable way to put it. The fact of the matter is that Republicans in their criticism of Eastwood have made the democrats day as they throw Eastwood under the chair.
One prominent Republican, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, said that he “cringed” at the performance.
Walker, appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday, echoed the sentiments of many when he said he would have preferred to see more testimonials from people talking about Romney. “Frankly I would have rather seen that than Clint Eastwood,” he said.
In multiple television appearances Friday morning, Ann Romney was asked about Eastwood, largely demurring, calling him “a unique guy,” and noting the campaign was happy for his support. But when asked on CBS’ This Morning whether she thought the campaign should have aired a well-received video tribute in prime time in place of Eastwood, she responded: “Yes, I do wish more people had seen those touching moments.”
Eastwood’s performance, a rambling 12-minute discourse that featured the legendary actor and Oscar-winning director talking to an empty chair that represented President Obama, dominated Twitter and other social media sites.
At one point, Eastwood feigned an exchange with the president.
“What do you want me to tell Mr. Romney?” he asked.
“I can’t tell him that. He can’t do that to himself,” Mr. Eastwood said, in what The New York Times said was “apparently referring to a sexual act.” Now mind you, this is with small children in the audience.
Film critic Roger Ebert had this tweet: “Clint, my hero, is coming across as sad and pathetic.”
On Thursday night, President Obama’s Twitter feed sent a link to a picture of the president sitting in a chair and the message: “This seat’s taken.”
An unattributed release from the Romney campaign defended Eastwood, according to The Wall Street Journal: “Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn’t work. His ad-libbing was a break from all the political speeches, and the crowd enjoyed it,” the statement read.
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” declared “a great night for Mitt Romney just got sidetracked by Clint Eastwood. Wow. That was bad.”
At issue in the aftermath: Did the “Dirty Harry” star’s performance break the narrative thread of the convention? Or did his one-man show provide a welcome break from the sometimes suffocating choreography that characterizes most modern political events?
When asked earlier today, Paul Ryan played it coy, telling the NBC station WAVY, “Clint Eastwood will be Clint Eastwood.”
Senior campaign adviser Stuart Stevens told reporters this afternoon that he was watching with Romney backstage, and that the candidate “was laughing, thought it was funny.”
The timing, though, has Republicans — including some inside the Romney camp — perplexed. There have been questions about why Eastwood was given such free reign in what is usually a presidential campaign’s literal defining hour.
When asked if the campaign was eyeing the clock as Eastwood’s bit dragged on, Stevens replied: “That would be a true statement.”
The chair, Stevens conceded, had also been a bit of a surprise.
“I never discussed, I mean, about a chair. Don’t know,” he said. “This was an idea, a moment that moved him, I would say, and he went with it. You could see in this he hit points that he’d hit before in the [fundraisers] and [they] were good points. He just chose this narrative way to deliver it.”
Another senior Romney staffer admitted to being in the dark about the bare seat.
“I mean, he just asked a prop person to bring a chair out and the prop person, I think, thought he was going to sit in it,” the adviser said. “I don’t know what happened [at] that moment. I know that a prop person brought the chair out. I just think this was something he wanted to do and he did it.”
ABC News political director Amy Walter, who was in the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the show, said, “For those who say these conventions are just one, long, scripted infomercial, Eastwood proved they can still deliver some surprises.”
But even taken as a welcome departure from the status quo, there are questions about whether Eastwood’s performance disrupted the timing and content of the evening.
Eastwood’s questioning of the “invisible Obama” has played to some positive reviews. Even the Democrats, who took to social media mocking the stunt, did so with a bit of a smile. Eastwood is an entertainer, after all, and he entertained.
Now the only thing that is left is what did you think about Eastwood’s speech and did Republicans throw the aging actor under the bus or under the chair.