LOS ANGELES —
After six years, Mitt Romney is finally the Republican presidential nominee, but the man everyone’s talking about is Clint Eastwood — who has apparently lost his mind.
Yes, things got a little surreal down Tampa way in the run-up to Romney’s much-anticipated acceptance speech Thursday night. First, “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks sang “Takin’ It to the Streets” with great and occasionally spastic enthusiasm, while CNN crawled the fact that he opened at Bally’s in June, making him the first “Idol” to “secure Vegas residency.”
Then, after the obligatory autobiographical video of Romney’s rise to personal and financial success, Clint Eastwood took the stage. From the loud and adoring reaction of the crowd, one sensed that if he had asked the delegates to switch their votes, Eastwood would be the Republican nominee today.
Still tall and broad, but quite clearly 82 years old, Eastwood smiled into the applause and modestly advised that they “save a little for Mitt.” The actor and director pointed out that although Hollywood has a liberal reputation, there are plenty of Republicans in the Industry — they just “play it a little more close to the vest and they don’t go around hot-doggin’ it.”
He then proceeded to play it close to the vest by conducting a mock interview with an invisible (not to mention uncharacteristically angry and profane) President Barack Obama, a stunt that may go down as the strangest televised moment in convention history. Though Eastwood’s message was simple — Obama has not done what he promised and so, as with any unsatisfactory employee, it was time to let him go — his delivery left many slack-jawed.
Rambling so often that it appeared at least twice we had lost him, Eastwood studded his remarks with asides to an empty chair. “What? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can’t tell him to do that,” he said at one point. “He can’t do that to himself.”
The crowd went wild. So did Twitter: Mere minutes after Eastwood exited the stage, invisibleobama had 6,000 followers. It increased exponentially after that and by 9:30 included a tweet by Obama saying, “This seat is taken,” with a picture of a big empty chair.
Sharing the stage with invisible Obama, Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida said some things — most of them having to do with the failure of the president to deliver on his promises. He mentioned Romney more than a few times, something other speakers, including Eastwood, neglected to do.
Rubio pointed out that although a successful businessman, Romney is actually “more than that.” He’s also a husband, father, grandfather and generous member of the community. Honestly, someone on the Romney campaign has to work on the boilerplate.
Then came Mitt, inevitably handsome, though cursed with a matronly tendency to tilt his head to one side. Now, finally, he could show the world, which has been anxiously wondering, who he really is: a Republican presidential candidate with the haircut, modulated tenor and bottom line — are you happier than you were four years ago — of Ronald Reagan.
He is against abortion, he will create more jobs, he will expand domestic energy and overseas trade, he thinks motherhood is the most difficult and important job of all. Of his Mormon faith, about which he has been famously silent, he had this to say: “We were Mormons and growing up in Michigan; that might have seemed unusual or out of place but I really don’t remember it that way. My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to.”
He also thinks his iPod playlist is better than his running mate Paul Ryan’s; no details were given.
It was, in other words, a fairly standard acceptance speech, delivered well enough — he only faltered when it appeared someone was being hustled off the floor of the convention hall by security. But in the end, it didn’t matter much.
Because while he fiddled, Clint Eastwood burned.