TAMPA, Fla. – Appearing on a couple of morning network television shows Friday, potential First Lady Ann Romney sounded like she wanted her 12 minutes back. That would be the 12 minutes of prime television time the night before that her husband’s handlers handed to movie icon Clint Eastwood just before the climax of the Republican National Convention.
Eastwood, 82, turned the 720 precious seconds into a meandering walkabout through his (not entirely cogent) political beliefs. And Romney, in return, damned him with faint praise.
Asked on ABC’s “Good Morning America” about Eastwood’s rambling, unscripted speech, the wife of the Republican presidential nominee allowed that she was “grateful for his support,” but quickly heaped much more effusive praise on Olympic athletes and fellow Mormons "that knew Mitt so well" who also spoke on behalf of her husband Thursday night. Those testimonials did not reach the vast majority of viewers because they were delivered before 10 p.m EDT, when the networks opened their live coverage.
On CBS on Friday morning, Romney again quickly segued away from Eastwood’s performance. “You can never take away from the fact that this country is in trouble,” she said, “and people are looking for real leadership and that I know that Mitt is the man for this moment.”
That chilly reception—combined with the desire to not mire their campaign for another day in peripheral issues—explains why Romney advisors had very little to say about the Eastwood bit, in which the entertainer addressed an empty chair, where he imagined President Obama was sitting.
One Romney aide, who would speak only anonymously, said Eastwood had gone beyond the five to eight minutes that had been expected. The campaign reportedly saw notes that the Academy Award-winning director of “The Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby” brought for his speech, which led off the final night of prime-time coverage of the convention.
One campaign staffer could be overhead on the phone after Eastwood's ramble suggesting no one could have reined in the star, saying “You don’t edit Clint Eastwood.”
Eastwood got a bit off point, for some Republican tastes, when he criticized the war in Afghanistan and meandered around the topic of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum arena and conservatives reviewing his performance Friday on media outlets loved a lot of what the star was peddling.
One favorte line hit Vice President Joe Biden: “Of course, we all know Biden is the intellect of the Democratic Party," Eastwood said. "Kind of a grin with a body behind it.”
Other Eastwood fans weren't so kind. "Clint, my hero, is coming across as sad and pathetic," tweeted film critic Roger Ebert. "He didn't need to do this to himself. It's unworthy of him." Republican political consultant Mike Murphy tweeted that he was “dying” to read a full account of how the “Clint train wreck actually happened. Incredible.” Murphy speculated that network bookers were fighting to get Eastwood on the air, while “many PR types [are] trying to quietly get him … out of Tampa.”
One wag quickly created a Twitter handle @InvisibleObama for the unseen chief executive whom Eastwood addressed. It had more than 40,000 followers by mid-morning Friday. Social networks teamed with photos of “Eastwooding,” people (and even pets) gesturing to empty chairs.
Comedians considered what the Democrats would have to do next week in Charlotte, N.C., to top the Eastwood/empty chair trope. "To restore balance to the universe,” said Patton Oswalt, “Obama must have Tommy Chong onstage at the DNC, talking to a steak.”
Seth Myers of “Saturday Night Live” offered another option: "Biden has to go shirtless for DNC to top it."
Staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.