In the Line of Fire: The Clint Eastwood Train Wreck

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I will never forget the night I sat in a convention hall in Tampa and watched Mitt Romney accept the Republican nomination for president, because that was the night I saw Clint Eastwood say the immortal words: “Do you just—you know—I know—people were wondering—you don’t—handle that OK.”

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.

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Wow. This was not the bad-ass Clint from Unforgiven. This wasn’t even the get-the-hell-off-my-lawn Clint from Gran Torino. This was a rambling old dude with no teleprompter, wandering off message, rambling to an empty chair, ignoring the blinking red light telling him to get the hell off the stage. “And I thought, yeah, I am not going to shut up,” he muttered at one point. “It’s my turn.”

It sure was. Thursday had been the best day of the Republican convention, featuring the first speakers who actually talked with emotion about specific things that Romney had done.  An elderly couple told a wrenching story about Romney comforting their dying son, and helping him write his last will and testament. But when prime time rolled around, Eastwood took the convention to goofyville. Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican Party!

This was Clint’s half-hearted case for Romney: “This administration hasn’t done enough to cure that. I think possibly now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.” Possibly? He then chided the invisible Obama for proposing to close Guantanamo, before remembering that Obama didn’t close Guantanamo. Then he brought up the plan to try a terrorist in New York City. “I have to give credit where it’s due,” Eastwood told the empty chair. “You did overrule that.” He noted that Obama had opposed the war in Iraq, “and that’s OK,” then complained that the president had announced a withdrawal date for Afghanistan (an actual Republican talking point) instead of bringing the troops home immediately (not an actual Republican talking point).

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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. “I never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president anyway,” Eastwood groused. “I think attorneys are so busy. You know, they’re always taught to argue everything, always weigh everything, weigh both sides. They’re always devil’s advocating this and bifurcating this and bifurcating that. You know all that stuff.” If you say so, Pink Cadillac guy. By the way, Romney has a law degree from Harvard.

All right, you get the point. But I can’t stop! “I think if you just step aside and Mr. Romney can kind of take over,” Clint told Invisible Obama. “You can maybe still use a plane. Though maybe a smaller one. Not that big gas guzzler you are going around to colleges and talking about college loans and stuff like that.”

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All I can say is, it was horrible, and it was awesome, and it was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a political convention. And it was on prime time. If I were a Bain consultant like Romney—“a quote-unquote stellar businessman,” as Eastwood put it—I think I’d consider this a major management failure.

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