As I mentioned in my last post, I missed part of the line-up last night. I got back just in time to see Clint Eastwood offer up one more “Make my day,” and then watch the deluge of criticism roll across Twitter. It continues today at Time Magazine, where Michael Grunwald calls it a “train wreck,” and goes a little Chris Matthews for good measure:
Oh my. Romney’s speech sounded fine, and Marco Rubio seemed quite eloquent, but honestly, all I can think about is Dirty Harry scolding an invisible president in a chair for making an anatomically impossible suggestion. We had heard there would be a surprise guest tonight, but apparently, the surprise was a surprise to the surprise guest. You know how reporters always complain that conventions are too scripted? Eastwood was the first thing on network TV tonight, and oh, it wasn’t scripted. It wasn’t rehearsed. It wasn’t sane. …
There was one semi-disturbing moment, when Clint screamed “We own this country!” He got a standing ovation for that one, and it’s possible that the virtually all-white crowd was picking up a bit of Gran Torino you-know-what-I-mean-by-we. But I would chalk it up to incoherence rather than malice, because that was definitely the theme of his soliloquy.
The “sane” world understood that as a reference to the taxpayers as opposed to the political class, actually, and the theme of Gran Torino wasn’t a paean to xenophobia, either. In fact, that’s nearly a direct antithesis of its message. It doesn’t get much better over at National Journal’s roundup of reactions, either:
The reviews continue to pour in on Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National convention Thursday night, and “mixed” might be a charitable way to put it. 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. …
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.
The Romney campaign explained it best:
“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.”
Perhaps the initial reaction from people came from the immediacy of the moment, and an expectation that a lifelong entertainer had come to do something other than, er, entertain. Plenty of criticism in my Twitter feed came from people who support Mitt Romney, too. But having watched it this morning, after all of the drama has passed, I actually thought Eastwood was … pretty funny. It was refreshing to get that break from all of the seriousness of the three days in Tampa. The clucking of tongues over Eastwood’s “I can’t do that to myself” as inappropriate is almost laughable, considering what passes for humor these days in the US. Eastwood intended this to be irreverent, spontaneous, and fun. If you didn’t get at least three laughs out of that 11-minute segment, you’re taking life too seriously.
If I can riff like that on national TV at the age of 82, believe me, I’ll be happy.
One criticism is more substantial, which is that this kind of break from seriousness should have been scheduled earlier in the evening. That misses the point of having Eastwood on the stage at all. Michael Walsh explains it at the New York Post:
To see why the choice of Clint Eastwood as the surprise guest speaker at last night’s close of the Republican Convention was so brilliant, look at the electoral map. …
In other words, the Heartland Campaign is not simply about Electoral College votes. It’s also a way to frame the Democrats as the out-of-touch party of the status quo — i.e., Big Government — at a time when Big Government has so signally failed the average American.
If it works — and if a Romney administration can successfully grapple with the debt bomb, the entitlement crisis and growing government dependency — it could set back the Democrats’ prospects for years to come.
Which brings us back to Eastwood. In such films as “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “High Plains Drifter,” he’s the embodiment of rugged, rebellious heartland values.
And those cranky, cantankerous, all-American voters are just who Romney & Ryan need to defeat the coastal elites and return America to its heartland roots.
Besides the Heartland Strategy, the RNC and Team Romney was using the Eyeball Strategy. They needed to reach people who might not have otherwise tuned in to the Republican convention to see Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney. That means putting their Eyeball Strategy in play directly before Rubio. Now, perhaps some people who tuned in to see Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood speak tuned out after (or even during), but it’s a no-lose strategy. They wouldn’t lose anyone who tuned in to see Romney and Rubio anyway, and there’s a very good chance that most of the people who tuned in for Eastwood stuck around for Rubio and Romney afterward. If they did, they saw two terrific speeches and perhaps had their minds opened about Romney after Barack Obama’s summer of vilification.
That’s brilliant. As for the handwringing over Eastwood’s extemporaneous riff, I can only say this:
Update: David Harsanyi concurs:
And speaking of the mildly curious voters … Though many of them may enjoy and admire someone like George Clooney, they probably don’t relate to him. Clint, on the other hand, cuts through generations and fan bases. He’s about as close to universally liked as a celebrity can get. This is why Chrysler used his voice. Eastwood’s appearance will do nothing to amuse those who take their politics too seriously, but he certainly lightened up what is by nature an artificial and highly-scripted event. No, Eastwood didn’t lay out an eloquent, bullet-point argument against Barack Obama’s economic policies, what he did was convey a prevalent sentiment in nonpartisan language that a lot of people who don’t care much about politics can relate to.
Morning Spew adds this:
What is most humorous is that by presenting in a seemingly unscripted manner, Eastwood masterfully uses his craft to interact with all voters in a playful, personal way and squarely hits his mark. His performance caught the liberal main stream media off guard because they didn’t understand the intent of his speech, and so in their haste to destroy all things Romney, they’ve dutifully trashed Eastwood’s appearance. What the liberal pundits do not realize (yet) is that by trashing Mr. Eastwood speech, they have simply helped to bring more attention to Eastwood’s message: Obama must go.
I think most people will see this is a lark, and react accordingly.