COMMENTARY | You knew it had the potential to occur, that one or two of the speakers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., would be seen as more dynamic or as stealing the show from the less-than-charismatic Mitt Romney. You just didn’t know it was going to happen the way it did. And there is little doubt that many thought Clint Eastwood would be the highlight of the night of Romney’s acceptance speech once he took the stage, but no analyst, pundit, or political scientist could have predicted that Romney would ultimately be upstaged by an empty chair.
That is correct — an empty chair. Well, that, and the imaginary guy sitting there.
The legendary director was at times funny, according to CNN , at times pointedly incisive, at times off-message (like with Romney’s stance on Afghanistan, which Eastwood apparently believed was to withdraw American troops post haste) and at times satirical. But his speech became the night’s outstanding segment when he had an imaginary conversation with the empty chair at his stage left, an empty chair complete with an invisible President Barack Obama.
Perhaps it was a stab at symbolism to show that Obama’s presidency has had no substance, to show that the administration’s accomplishments have amounted to nothing. But what Eastwood’s performance did was amuse and fire up the RNC crowd — and set off a firestorm of commentary on Twitter and the Internet. “Eastwooding” became a meme with people posing with empty chairs. “Invisible Obama” became a Twitter handle with tens of thousands of followers.
Eastwood was the “mystery guest” Republicans had been talking about all week for Thursday’s list of speakers, one they kept a “surprise” until early Thursday when the actor’s presence at the RNC was leaked. That the 81-year-old actor endorsed Romney for president was no secret, because he had done so at an Idaho fundraiser at the beginning of August. But getting the politically reticent Eastwood to speak at the RNC was indeed a surprise.
But what about the guy that followed Clint Eastwood on the stage? After all, it was his night. Sure, commentators and pundits on the news channels talked about his speech afterward but the obligatory political parsing aside, Eastwood ruled the night. He and the empty chair and “invisible Obama” were still trending heavily Friday.
And to think that everybody thought Romney was going to be upstaged by his vice presidential choice, Rep. Paul Ryan, and his rousing speech from the previous night. Not so. Ryan nor his “stab at the world record of lies” speech could outdo the iconic Eastwood and a guy that wasn’t even there.
So what did the Republican presidential nominee have to say? Who knows? Who cares? Eastwood said that the “invisible Obama” in the empty chair had told him to tell Romney to do something unmentionable to himself, a line far more memorable than anything the candidate had to say in his acceptance speech.
Poor Mitt. Republican officials and his campaign constructed an entire convention to show America the candidate as a person, a warm and not-so-calculating human being, an individual not always so businesslike. Fears that some of the political speakers, like Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would steal his limelight (much like Alaska governor Sarah Palin stole Sen. John McCain’s at the 2008 RNC) persisted but his nomination would hopefully still become the big news coming out of Tampa at week’s end. He would be seen as a family man, not so autocratic, more accessible to the people, less severe, less stiff, less wooden.
Then to ultimately have the spotlight stolen by an inanimate object.
And President Obama, no less. A man not even present.
Looks like Eastwood directed another piece where the prop played too distracting a role. The only difference this time? Nobody cared about the “million dollar baby” after the scene with the chair.