Nobody On Team Romney Taking Credit, or Blame, For The Eastwood Fiasco

Not surprisingly, Romney campaigns staffers don't seem to want to take responsibility for Clint Eastwood's performance last night.

Apparently, even people inside the Romeny campaign are trying to figure out what the heck was going on last night with Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance at the Republican National Convention:

TAMPA, Fla. — Clint Eastwood’s rambling and off-color endorsement of Mitt Romney on Thursday seemed to startle and unsettle even the candidate’s own top aides, several of whom made a point of distancing themselves from the decision to put him onstage without a polished script.

“Not me,” said an exasperated-looking senior adviser, when asked who was responsible for Mr. Eastwood’s speech. In late-night interviews, aides variously called the speech “strange” and “weird.” One described it as “theater of the absurd.”

Finger-pointing quickly ensued, suggesting real displeasure and even confusion over the handling of Mr. Eastwood’s performance, which was kept secret until the last minute and offered an off-key message on the night that Mr. Romney accepted the Republican presidential nomination.

A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood’s appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney’s top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens. This person said that there had been no rehearsal, to the surprise of the rest of the campaign team.

But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Mr. Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. Mr. Eastwood, however, delivered those points in a theatrical, and at times crass, way that caught Romney aides off guard, this person said. Mr. Eastwood even ignored warnings that he had exceeded his time.

Mr. Stevens, in an interview, said he would not discuss internal decision making but described Mr. Eastwood’s remarks as improvised.

“He spoke from the heart with a classic improv sketch which everyone at the convention loved,” Mr. Stevens said.

He called it “an honor that a great American icon would come and talk about the failure of the current president and the promise of the future one.”

This strikes me as simply bizarre. There was a time, during the primaries, when pundits marveled at the discipline and efficiency of the Romney campaign in getting its message across, and staying on message. If there was ever a time when a campaign needs to be disciplined, it is on the most important night of a political convention. As I noted this morning, for most of last night the campaign had done that very well. They featured a number of speakers that related stories of Romney’s personal character and business acumen and, before that, brought people like Jeb Bush to the dais to give a particularly effective presentation about education reform. All of that fell apart the minute Clint Eastwood came on the stage, though Even Marco Rubio, who followed Eastwood and was there to introduce Romney, spent nearly as much time talking about himself in his speech as he did about the party’s nominee. Viewers who tuned in when the broadcast network coverage started at 10pm Eastern had no idea what had come before, even though it had clearly all been intended to build up with Romney’s speech as the climax of the evening.

Many pundits on the right seem to think that the Eastwood appearance was pure brilliance (see the posts by Peter Ingemi, Ed Morrissey, and Robert Stacey McCain for examples of that) but, the Washington Examiner’s Byron York hits the nail on the head when he points out what was so wrong about what happened last night:

When CNN asked top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom to assess Clint Eastwood’s performance on stage at the Republican convention Thursday night, Fehrnstrom answered simply, “It’s improv.”

It’s an open question why such a carefully run campaign chose to feature improv at the beginning of the 10 p.m. Eastern time hour — peak viewing time as millions of people waited for Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech.  But that’s what happened, and the hour Romney had been anticipating for many years began in a decidedly offbeat way.

Offbeat doesn’t even begin to describe it. Tune in to any cable news program this morning, this afternoon, and most likely tonight, and you’ll find that the primary topic of discussion isn’t Mitt Romney’s speech or the convention itself overall, but Clint Eastwood. The same is likely to be true of the major broadcast network news broadcasts tonight. That’s free air time that should have been spent talking about Mitt Romney, not the eccentric performance of an octogenarian actor and director. The Romney campaign let their own supporter step all over their message.

As I said this morning, I’m not certain that this incident is going to matter all that much in the end but, it does display a certain amount of either recklessness or incompetence on the part of Romney campaign staffers. They never should have let Eastwood go out there without a script, and they never should have let him go seven minutes over his allotted time. That’s seven minutes they could’ve used to play that campaign video I mentioned earlier, or seven minutes that could’ve gone to the candidate’s speech. Of course, I’m not sure anyone is really going to tell Clint Eastwood what to do.

What this really demonstrates, though, is the dangers that are involved when political campaigns use celebrities. Blake Zeff, who was a campaign aide to Hillary Clinton during her Presidential campaign, tells a story at Buzzfeed about the time he tried to “handle” Billy Crystal:

It was October 26, 2007, and I was a campaign spokesman for Clinton, responsible for making sure a fundraising extravaganza in New York honoring the candidate’s birthday received favorable coverage.

I received a frenzied call from campaign headquarters minutes before show-time, frantically informing me of a rumor that: 1) As part of his act that night as emcee, comedian Billy Crystal was planning to lampoon our rival Rudy Giuliani; and 2) Said joke apparently would have some sort of Jewish-related hook.

Knowing that a joke criticizing another candidate too harshly (with ethnic undertones, no less) would garner far more attention than any policy discussion the campaign might engage in that week, it was decided there was only one option: I would need to barge into the green room, immediately track down American’s favorite nebbish, and prevent a PR crisis.

(…)

“Um, Billy, would you mind telling us the Rudy joke, just to make sure it doesn’t cause any problems?” I asked lightly, trying my best to keep it calm and cool.

After staring at me in silent disbelief for what seemed like the duration of Forget Paris, the comic legend finally responded, reciting the joke’s punch-line with a deliberate, peeved monotone: “This is the craziest thing that’s happened since Ann Coulter started keeping kosher.”

That didn’t seem so bad, I thought. “What’s the set-up?”

“What’s the set-up?” he barked back at me. “What? This conversation isn’t happening!”

“No, we just…”

“You’re asking me to run the set-up of my joke by you?”

At this point, he was seething.

As if to underscore the absurdity of the situation, Crystal repeated the question again, summoning equal parts rage and incredulity: “You are asking me what my set-up is?!”

Understandably annoyed that some shmuck from the campaign was asking him to run jokes by him minutes before a free performance, the perennial back-up Oscars host was now in my face, staring me down. “You want to get me angry right before I start the show?” (At that moment, I began to sympathize with the title character in Throw Momma From the Train.)

(…)

The point? Stars have minds of their own and can be difficult to control. If getting a 5’6″ comic to modify his remarks before an event was this tough, imagine trying to tell stubborn, old Dirty Harry to stick to the Teleprompter

That’s a fair point. Even at 82 years old, I sure as heck wouldn’t want to mess with Clint Eastwood.

The fact that Clint Eastwood is likely hard to “handle” doesn’t really relieve the Romney people for any responsibility for what happened here. They didn’t have to invite Eastwood to the Convention and allow him to speak extemporaneously for a longer period of time than had been allotted to him. The very idea of having a “mystery guest” at the Convention to begin with was clearly a gimmick designed to increase attention for and interest in the Convention itself, and especially the events of the all-important last night when Romney would be making his speech. Speaking abstractly, it’s not necessarily a bad a idea, but it’s one that has to be executed carefully, otherwise the campaign could end up looking foolish. Additionally, Eastwood himself wasn’t a bad choice per se for this “mystery guest,” he’s an iconic American actor who has in recent years expanded his talents to become an Academy Award winning Director. He’s been openly Republican for years, which in and of itself is something of a rarity. And, well, he’s Clint F****ing Eastwood. It’s really kind of cool, but it still needs to be done correctly.

When I first started hearing rumors that the “mystery guest” would be Eastwood (at first I suspected it was going to be Nancy Reagan), I assumed that he’d be doing something similar to this:

That’s the commercial that Eastwood did for Chrysler and which aired at halftime during the Super Bowl in February. While many on the right at the time criticized Eastwood because they thought, incorrectly, that it was some kind of subtle endorsement of President Obama, it’s the kind of message that, properly modified for the convention, would have worked very well with the rest of the themes that the party was trying to establish last night. Instead, they fumbled the football and now nobody wants to take responsibility for it.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Entertainment, Popular Culture, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Drew says:

    Fair enough, it was weird. But can we have some perspective?

    Nobody On Team Obama Taking Credit, or Blame, For The Biden Fiasco

    There, fixed it. One guy gave a speech, one guy is a heart beat away.

  2. MM says:

    The party of personal responsibility, ladies and gentlemen.

  3. anjin-san says:

    The “personal responsibility” credo of conservatives is so refreshing.

  4. MBunge says:

    @Drew: “Nobody On Team Obama Taking Credit, or Blame, For The Biden Fiasco”

    What Biden Fiasco?

    Mike

  5. Ed in NJ says:

    How much longer are we going to keep perpetuating the myth that the Romney campaign is disciplined and efficient? The reality is that the primaries featured the weakest lineup of candidates any major party has put forth in our lifetimes. Don’t you recall alternating prime contenders, from Bachmann, to Perry, to Gingrich, to Santorum, who at different times made Romney look like the amateur that he and his campaign is? How short is your memory? Romney outspent his rivals more than tenfold, and won the nomination by drowning out his rivals’ message.

    Now that he is facing real competition, he is flying by the seat of his pants. The convention, from the lack of buzz, to the placement of We Built It under the Debt Clock, the Princess Ann Romney speech, to the Ryan Lyin’ fail, was an unmitigated disaster even before Eastwood’s folly and Romney speech about nothing.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    This is still the top story at memeorandum.com.
    I can’t remember…did Romney speak last night???
    Poor guy…he’s been running for President for 7 f’ing years and gets completely upstaged by a senile old guy talking to an empty chair.

    A lot of people thought Eastwood was in the tank for Obama when he did that commercial for Chrysler…one of the Auto Companies Obama helped rescue and Romney/Ryan wanted to go bankrupt…based on last nights performance he may very well be.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    @MBunge:

    @Drew: “Nobody On Team Obama Taking Credit, or Blame, For The Biden Fiasco”
    What Biden Fiasco?
    Mik

    Drew would probably say it’s the very fact that Biden is the Vice President.

  8. Lkorn says:

    Clint Eastwood supports gay marriage, favors gun control and abortion rights and supports environmental causes. He was so detached from reality last night, maybe he had no idea where he was? Thank goodness the Affordable Healthcare Act covers pre-existing conditions….he may need some medical/mental health attention.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I wonder if Romney will take responsibility? He is the boss isn’t he? Did he not hire the people who were responsible for handling Clint? Vetting his speech? Etc?

  10. David M says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Drew would probably say it’s the very fact that Biden is the Vice President.

    That’s what I thought too, but even that doesn’t make sense outside of a GOP cocoon. I’m pretty sure Obama will admit he asked Biden to be VP.

  11. James Joyner says:

    Getting to the bottom of this should be easy. Somebody just needs to go to Romney HQ and ask, “Who built that?”

  12. Clanton says:

    I actually thought it was the best speech of the whole convention. Funny, original, imaginative, eomething even Pres. Obama would get a kick out of.

  13. @James Joyner:

    In fairness, the chair was probably built in Mexico and the microphone on the podium is probably Chinese

  14. Scott O says:

    @MBunge: @al-Ameda: @David M: I guess you guys didn’t hear about it. No surprise that the lame stream media is doing it’s best to cover it up. Turns out old Joe said black people are all slaves. Or something like that. It was so bad that Obama is gonna throw him off the ticket and ask Hilary to take his spot. /sarcasm

  15. Me Me Me says:

    Even at 82 years old, I sure as heck wouldn’t want to mess with Clint Eastwood.

    If Team Romney can’t stand up to a Hollywood primo donna, how are they going to stand up to [Iran, China, “the Soviets”, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.etc. etc.].

    Seriously, though: imagine that the Democrats decided to have their convention during the rainy season in a low-lying area of a city in flood plain that, on average, has a major flood drama every other year. They then make a minor verbal stumble the thematic centerpiece of the convention. And then to cap it off they then give an open mic a moral degenerate from Hollywood to spout 12 minutes of rambling unscripted, unvetted vitriol.

    Would the nation not conclude that the party that “planned” a mess such as that is not fit to govern?

  16. John Peabody says:

    I like the theory that it was a brilliant move. Because, without Clint, the MSM would have spent tearing down the Romney speech (no matter what he said). So, an entire news cycle of “wasn’t that a terrible convention?” was changed to “boy, was that weird or what?”

  17. Doubter4444 says:

    @John Peabody:
    Keep telling yourself that.

  18. Jed says:

    First thing I thought, upon seeing it, was “This is a bit” and continue to think so. Elwood P. Dowd meets Bob Newhart. Right down to the stinger coming right after the (apparent) bafflement. The giveaway comes at the end, where he straightens right up.

    Apparently Newhart agrees and tweeted about calling his lawyers.

    Unless he’s degenerated wicked fast, I’m going with bit. Watch it again, along with the responsiveness to the crowd and see if you agree. Might be I’ve just watched Harvey too recently, but I think some people have heard it was a doddering old rambler and succumbed to the confirmation of same.

  19. Rick Almeida says:

    @John Peabody:

    That’s an interesting idea. I still can’t imagine that it was deliberate, but you make the point it’s a less-worse outcome.

  20. Buffalo Rude says:

    RomneyHQ’s rank amateurism is pretty stunning. The Ron Paul bitch-slap (a slap laid, arguably, on the only actual grassroots political movement the GOP has), Romney’s biographical short doesn’t make the national broadcasts and then they let Dirty Harry onstage probably expecting some good ol’ Eastwood Swagger™ and instead got a rambling bit of po-mo conversation with an empty chair, perhaps while in a fugue state.

    Just, wow.

  21. Jeremy R says:

    He’s been openly Republican for years, which in and of itself is something of a rarity.

    The thing is, as a socially progressive, global warming believing, energy conservation advocating, anti-Afghan-war Republican he really doesn’t seem like a very good fit for Romney. When he endorsed the candidate a little while back it seemed his main issue was tax-policy (he wanted rates reduced and more low-end income earners to broaden the tax base or something).

  22. Samuel Dijk says:

    Oh yes, “Outside the Beltway,” the place to read the most conventional, inside the beltway bromides.

  23. G.A. says:

    DUDE THAT **** WAS HILARIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. G.A. says:

    In fairness, the chair was probably built in Mexico and the microphone on the podium is probably Chinese

    And the solar powered teleprompter in front of the chair by Solyndra.

  25. Ernieyeball says:

    @G.A.: And the solar powered teleprompter in front of the chair by Solyndra.

    That was actually funny…Someone call Jay Leno…

  26. Jib says:

    Jeezus, rookies, I swear I have no time for this crap. He is an actor, you give him lines and he reads them. In Clints case, he does it very well, as long as your not doing “Singing in the Rain” or some crap like that (we will all pretend “Paint Your Wagon” never happened)

    Under no circumstances do you let him improvise, NONE! NEVER!! EVER!!! Actors, they always want to wing it, you node and give the script and push them out there. They stand in the lights and read the script, it is their move, it is what they do.

    Christ, back in the day when we were running Ronnie baby, every one understood this. Now a days, these kids, they know nothing. No skill, no art, nothing but empty suits hoping their titles are enough to get laid at the after parties. No wonder a Kenyan Muslim is president.

  27. James Joyner says:

    @Jib: I don’t think you let ANYBODY improvise in that situation. But, prior to the speech, there was no reason to think Eastwood is a lunkhead. The guy’s been an incredibly successful director; he’s not just some guy who reads lines others write.

  28. bill says:

    if clint spoke at the dem convention you’d all be lining up to adore him- deal with it. he was funny, i always thought of obama as an “empty suit”, the “empty chair” was nice.

  29. bill says:

    @Lkorn: he’s a moderate republican, there are such things. just like there are moderate democrats who don’t agree with everything the party endorses, but vote that way for their own reasons. republicans aren’t all conservatives just like democrats aren’t all liberals. and he’s got enough money to pay for his healthcare, don’t worry about him!

  30. Eric Florack says:

    Fiasco? I think not.

    Not only do I think it was brilliantly done, there’s a deeper reason I approve of Eastwood’s appearance: For many generations now, the democrats have been using the Stalinist tactic of derision against it’s enemies… the Free Marketers, the Republicans, the Tea Party, Reagan… in fact anyone to the right of Fidel Castro.. What we saw in Eastwood’s performance is that same tactic turned against them. Which is precisely why they’re screaming so loudly about it today. He used humor to poke at Obama…. and who else has among the centrist party that is today’s GOP, the stones to do that?

  31. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    I didn’t think anything could be more embarrassing than this, but it shows he does have a history of talking to inanimate objects.

  32. An Interested Party says:

    Which is precisely why they’re screaming so loudly about it today.

    Indeed…screaming with laughter…you don’t think they fear what he did? If so, you are even more delusional than I thought…

    …and who else has among the centrist party that is today’s GOP…

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!! Speaking of delusional…

  33. Eric Florack says:

    Indeed…screaming with laughter…you don’t think they fear what he did?

    Matter of fact, they do, and your whistling in the dark won’t change that much.The situation has shifted away from them, and they know it. Eastwood’s thing is just one sign of that,.

  34. An Interested Party says:

    Matter of fact, they do…

    Oh my, I guess we can add mind reading to your many other “talents”…of course, considering your predictions for the 2008 elections, you will forgive me if I don’t take what you are saying now too seriously…

  35. Eric Florack says:

    Heh. Sit back and watch.

  36. Me Me Me says:

    @Eric Florack: The clearest sign that someone has no reality-based, fact-based argument to make is when they resort to reliance on some impossible-to-prove-or-disprove assertion about the future.

  37. An Interested Party says:

    The clearest sign that someone has no reality-based, fact-based argument to make is when they resort to reliance on some impossible-to-prove-or-disprove assertion about the future.

    Or when they compare any politician to Hitler…