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August 31, 2012 3:41 PM Amateur Hour

By Ed Kilgore

The word is beginning to trickle out now about how the whole Eastwood think went down, thanks, of course, to Romney and Convention staffers playing some CYA. Barbaro and Peterson of the New York Times have the story:

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….

So Clint just blind-sided them, right? They had no warning, right? Well, not exactly:

Aides said Mr. Eastwood does not like teleprompters and was trusted to deliver an on-message endorsement.
“He made a last-minute decision to ad-lib, and I don’t think people knew,” said Ari Fleischer, a former adviser to George W. Bush, who said he had spoken with people involved in planning the convention. He suggested that second-guessing of the Romney campaign’s convention presentation was “just the nature of the beast.”

And here’s my favorite part:

Initially, there were no plans for Mr. Eastwood to take a chair onstage as a prop. But at the last minute, the actor asked the production staff backstage if he could use one, but did not explain why. “The prop person probably thought he was going to sit in it,” a senior aide said.

“No plans” for a prop, eh? No plans at all. No script. No teleprompters. No researsals. Just some talking points and a bunch of assumptions. So actually, none of the wizards really knew what this 82-year-old eccentric without much political experience beyond the mean streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea was going to do when the network cameras came on and millions of people tuned in to watch Mitt Romney deliver his acceptance speech.

I’ve worked in the script and speech operation in six Democratic National Conventions, and I can tell you that hardly anyone “likes” teleprompters. Plenty of people—Senators, former Cabinet Members, people who have made thousands of political speeches—don’t normally use fixed texts. Very few Convention speakers want to rehearse, either. But they all do, from a fixed text, on a teleprompter, and under constant instructions that if they ever want to eat lunch at The Palm again, there had better not be any surprises.

The only Convention Speaker I can recall who successfully refused the use of a teleprompter was Jimmy Carter, a former President of the United States. And even he used a prepared text.

Now I don’t know that the Eastwood incident will have any enduring effect on perceptions of the Convention, much less the elections. But it’s one of many examples of how just when you are convinced that Mitt Romney runs the tightest ship in the business, run by ruthless cyborgs who insist on reducing the margin of error to nothing, something like this always seems to happen. It certainly helps convince me that no Romney lead in the polls is entirely safe. And it ought to make at least a few people nervous about how this Genius Business Leader’s hand-picked underlings might function if they are in charge of the country next January.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • DJ on August 31, 2012 3:51 PM:

    But it’s one of many examples of how just when you are convinced that Mitt Romney runs the tightest ship in the business, run by ruthless cyborgs who insist on reducing the margin of error to nothing, something like this always seems to happen.

    No, he runs his business in a tight, ruthless, margin-seeking manner. As a politician, he merely blunders, stumbles, and outspends his opponents, drowning them in negative advertising. If he ran a tight campaign, would his people be tripping over each other to avoid blame for the Eastwood fiasco as they are?

    The general election is the first time he's up against a fairly wealthy, professional campaign apparatus. So far, not so good.

  • Napoleon on August 31, 2012 3:54 PM:

    FYI - I read Condi did not use one either, but she had a prepared text.

  • MikeBoyScout on August 31, 2012 3:56 PM:

    You nailed it.

    The two lasting impressions indelibly left on the American people who watched or read about the Republican National Convention is that Paul Ryan is a bald face liar and Mitt Romney can't successfully pull of a 3 hour TV show.

    Leadership? This team makes George W. Bush seem bright.

  • Al on August 31, 2012 4:00 PM:

    Clint tells it like it is. America is fortunate to have patriots like him to spak truth to power.

  • BillFromPA on August 31, 2012 4:04 PM:

    The damage from this will 'last' only as long as it takes for the incredibly inept Romney campaign to find a way to screw some other promising opportunity up. I actually dreaded the possiblity of a good boost for Willard from a popular Hollywood icon, but they blew it. This is their MO, and this incident is another in a long line of incompetent actions. Even the lowest of the low information swing voters are setting in stone the notion that these guys can't get anything right. The lack of a plan, a policy and the obvious lies are but icing on the cake, this campaign is it's own worse enemy, Obama will mop the floor with this crew.

  • lou on August 31, 2012 4:09 PM:

    Clint wheel chaired himself off the cliff. The GOP could use more sacrificial figures who really can do it to themselves anatomically.

  • T2 on August 31, 2012 4:09 PM:

    MikeBoyScout sums it right up. The GOP Convention 2012: Hurricane Issac grabs most of the headlines, except "Ryan is a Liar" and "Clint is a Bumbling Old Man" and "Romney may be Human, we aren't sure yet".
    A guest on MSNBC today tore into the Romney camp over the Eastwood incident, emphasizing how very sloppy and unplanned it was - hardly inspiring us to believe they are ready to "take our country back".
    But really, the Ryan lies, the Eastwood debacle....none of that is going to lose them one single GOP vote. Then only way that happens is if Obama turns white overnight.

  • thebewilderness on August 31, 2012 4:19 PM:

    Carelessness and thoughtlessness are the essence of Mitt Romney's entire life. It should come as no surprise that these traits are reflected in his campaign. They are the essence of who he is.

  • biggerbox on August 31, 2012 4:19 PM:

    On the other hand, I thought the chair showed real comic timing and a natural stage presence.

    Given the party's willingness to consider stiff, wooden candidates, I think we have seen the opening of the Chair 2016 campaign.

  • R on August 31, 2012 4:25 PM:

    Sad to say, I think T2's last two sentences might be right.

    Here's an interesting take on Eastwood:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/01/opinion/what-the-chair-could-have-told-clint-eastwood.html?smid=pl-share

    Captcha: ucattdo ploy
    Clint, you tried a cat doo-doo ploy. Or something.

  • Anonymous on August 31, 2012 4:26 PM:

    The Party of "I hate teleprompters" has just been done in by a senile moron famous for pretending to be tough. I just hope that everyone who sees Eastwood now says "GET OFF MY LAWN!!" and "LEARN YOUR LINES, YOU INCOMPETENT!" in a loud voice. The guy is simply nothing more or less than a total asshole.

  • Peter C on August 31, 2012 4:28 PM:

    Clint is an apt proxy for the entire Republican Party, a convincing showman, very white, increasingly angry with the world around him, and sadly growing loopier and more senile by the year. In the past, he was a respectable figure, but now, like the Republicans, he's pitiable at best. We'll take care of them in their dotage, but putting them in charge would be a mistake.

  • DRF on August 31, 2012 4:30 PM:

    You have to think that the campaign staff knew the risk they were taking when they let Eastwood go onstage without a rehearsed, prepared script and a commitment to stick to it. But they backed themselves into a corner--in their desperation to get a speaker who would attract attention and an audience, they let themselves slot Eastwood in. Then, he cowed them by simply refusing to work with a script. At that point, the campaign staff wasn't prepared to fire him.

  • T2 on August 31, 2012 4:34 PM:

    Romney is tour of LA checking flood damage..news reports have him asking "did this water come from the sky?" uh........

  • arkie on August 31, 2012 4:36 PM:

    Eastwood was playing a soulless version of his character in "Grand Torino".

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NelBNtNm8l0

  • Mitch on August 31, 2012 4:40 PM:

    "No plans at all ... Just some talking points and a bunch of assumptions."

    That pretty much sums up the entire Republican Party, and their agendas, political, economic and social.

    Conservatism sure does sound good. Libertarianism sounds good, too. Hell, who doesn't want to think of themselves as a "rugged individualist" who never needed a handout?

    The problem is that if you follow the GOP Dogma, the end result is the Bush Era, or worse. History has shown this again and again.

    Who needs a plan? They KNOW that the Trickle Down hypothesis is as universal as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. They KNOW that "job creators" will start creating jobs when they pay lower taxes. They KNOW that they are the true voice of our Founding Fathers, and everyone else is apostate. They knew this during the Bush years, they know all of it now. Just like they know that Obama is a Big Spender who has bankrupted our nation with his handouts. Just like they knew Iraq had WMD, that the people would cheer us as conquering heroes, and that there was no need for a post-invasion plan.

    Plans? That sounds like Big Government socialism to me.

    They live in a fact-free world. They do not question their ideology and refuse to compare it to reality. All they have are some good soundbites and the fervor of the faithful.

    They have no plans. Just some talking points.

    This is a big part of the reason that they are so dangerous. Their talking points reject reality. Hell, when they do have plans, they are always along the lines of the Underpants Gnomes.

    1.) Cut taxes on the richest of the rich. Eliminate regulations across the board. Destroy the social safety net. Fire as many people as possible from the government. Give more money to giant corporations, Big Ag and the military-industrial complex.

    2.) ??

    3.) Profit for all America.

    This is why the top three Big Spenders among post-WWII US Presidents are Reagan, Bush and Bush. You know, the last three Republican Presidents.

    As in all things, the scientific method (the greatest invention of the human mind) applies here. If anything disagrees with evidence, observation and experimentation, then it is wrong. The experiments have been the times where the GOP has gotten it's way (practically always during my 32 years). The observation is that - even under Obama, Clinton and the Dems - we have followed the Republican recipe for my entire lifetime. The evidence that they are wrong is overwhelming.

  • Bo on August 31, 2012 4:50 PM:

    Well, at least none of the CYA explanations wandered into conspiracy theories about Eastwood being a deeply-placed functionary of the Obama campaign who was inserted by stealth into the evening line-up without the foreknowledge or approval of the RNC or campaign managers.
    If this hilarious episode has legs so to speak, perhaps we will still be graced with a full-throated version via Glenda Beck, Rush Limpballs or Seanie Vannity no doubt

  • arkie on August 31, 2012 4:52 PM:

    "They KNOW that the Trickle Down hypothesis is as universal as the Second Law of Thermodynamics."

    But they don't even understand the Second Law:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yw9AoQ38pVU

  • TCinLA on August 31, 2012 5:13 PM:

    Sad to see the effects of senility in public, I know for a fact Eastwood used to be an actual conservative.

    However, here's how his last public performance will be remembered. From Yahoo News (do click "funny or Die" some of those are hilarious):

    Clint Eastwood was the surprise speaker at the Republican convention. And the "Dirty Harry" actor's rambling speech didn't make everybody's day. The 82-year-old gave an ad-libbed talk to an empty chair on stage that was supposed to be President Obama—or where he was sitting—or something.

    It didn't take long for Obama's furniture stand-in to take on a life of its own. Cue the "Eastwooding" Web meme.

    Immediately, Clint Eastwood became a trending topic on Twitter as commenters poured out their thoughts—and let their imaginations run wild.

    From Brent Spiner ‏@BrentSpiner, "After watching Clint Eastwood's speech last night at the RNC, I'm voting for the chair. "

    Chris Rock (yes, that Chris Rock) ‏@chrisrockoz posted, "Clint Eastwood on the phone with Obama now: 'It all went according to plan,sir.'"

    @BorowitzReport wrote, "A new poll reveals that Romney trails Clint Eastwood's empty chair after convention."

    Ken Jennings ‏@KenJennings added,
    "An LA cop friend tells me Clint Eastwood has been driving alone in the HOV lane 'with the President' for YEARS. "

    Funny Or Die jumped in with a gallery of some of the best images, noting that Eastwood gave "a stern lecture to a chair," and picking up on some of the best chair memes, many of which involved the Eastwood/Chair ticket for 2012.

    A fake Simpsons cartoon image shows Grandpa Simpson in a newspaper clipping with the headline, "Old man yells at chair."

    And a Shepard Fairey version of the 2008 "Hope" poster was circulating with an image of a chair instead of Obama.

    Suzanne Munshower ‏@expatina asked,
    "I have one question: Was the mystery guest Clint Eastwood or the Invisible Obama?"

    Simon Pegg ‏@simonpegg posted,
    "Woken up to excited chatter in the US. Apparently Clint Eastwood had an argument with an empty chair regarding its political standpoint. "

    FastLaugh ‏@FastLaugh tweeted,
    "Give Clint Eastwood a break... The RNC asked him to speak about ObamaCare and he thought they said ObamaChair..."

    Obama's Twitter feed, @BarackObama responded with the post:
    "This seat's taken " and a photo of the commander-in-chief in a chair with the plaque "The President." It's been retweeted more than 40,000 times.

  • Liars, Liars on August 31, 2012 5:16 PM:

    Am sure whatever explanation comes out of these Republicans as to the situation of Eastwood, it will be a lie.

  • James Conner on August 31, 2012 5:48 PM:

    I'm not sure Clint's act — and that's what it was, entertainment — bombed. But I do know that a "you'll never work here again" doesn't deter an 82-year-old guy who's used to being in charge and might not live long enough to see another GOP convention.

    Mitt's staff knew that, but chose a live instead of video appearance. They rolled the dice, and if they crapped out, they have only themselves to blame.

  • tom on August 31, 2012 6:09 PM:

    Should have titled this post "You didn't plan that!"

  • c u n d gulag on August 31, 2012 6:24 PM:

    Senile?

    Clint, a few years ago, said he didn't like Mitt Romney.
    And earlier this year, he said he really wasn't too happy with the Republicans Party.

    I'm sorry, but I can't find the links that I know are there - there are WAAAAAAAY too many Clint-Mitt-Republicans links since last night for me to wade through.

    Maybe Clint was an Obama plant.

    Barack may owe Clint a nice dinner at the White House.

  • JM917 on August 31, 2012 7:21 PM:

    "There is something about a national convention that makes it as fascinating as a revival or a hanging. It is vulgar, it is ugly, it is stupid, it is tedious, it is hard upon both the higher cerebral centers and the gluteus maximus, and yet it is somehow charming. One sits through long sessions wishing heartily that all the delegates and alternates were dead and in hell--and then suddenly there comes a show so gaudy and hillarious, so melodramatic and obscene, so unimaginably exhilerating and preposterous that one lives a gorgeous year in an hour.

    --H.L. Mencken in the Baltimore Sun, July 14, 1924, after the close of the 103-ballot Democratic National Convention. (Reprinted in H.L Mencken on Politics: A Carrnival of Buncombe, ed. Malcolm Moos, New York: Vintage Books, 1960, p. 83).

    They don't build 'em like they used to--either conventions or reporting like Mencken's. And yet Clint's senior moment comes close, even in these debased latter days.

  • Wally on August 31, 2012 9:21 PM:

    Jeez, lighten up peeps.

    I was an aspiring actor for a few years so maybe I am not subjective. But I thought the schtick was a funny and creative way to make a political speech. People, this was improv poking fun at a politician, not a polished speech meant to destroy an opponent. It was not great improv but hey, the guy is old. Remember, he did do some comedic roles in his less craggy youth.

    But the attention did probably slightly moderated Romney's bounce, so all in all, is was good, no?

  • Honeyboy Wilson on August 31, 2012 9:56 PM:

    Well, you can be guaranteed that no true Republican used a teleprompter at the convention. They wouldn't have the nerve to use one after their constant criticism of Obama for his use of a teleprompter.

    The same argument proves that Ryan didn't cut Medicare in his budget.

  • exlibra on August 31, 2012 10:05 PM:

    Kilgore's favourite part is Eastwood's last minute decision to bring a chair as a prop. *My* favourite part is the beginning of the whole fiasco (from the same article):

    Mr. Romney privately invited the “Dirty Harry” actor to speak after Mr. Eastwood had given him a gravelly, full-throated endorsement at a star-studded fund-raiser at the Sun Valley Resort Lodge in Idaho this summer.

    Romney's aides might have "signed off" on the appearance but, even if they did not like it, would they have made their objections known (always assuming they, themselves, were told early enough)? Not bloody likely, with the boss being on record for liking to fire people. And the whole thing -- private invitation to a Hollywood star (we'll show those Damned Dems they don't have a lock on Hollywood!), the giggling secrecy about the "surprise guest", bursting at the seams in leaks -- is *so* typical of Romney's "sense of humour" (on a par with leading the blind teacher into a door)...

    Wally (@9:21 PM). If nothing else, with his crappy improv, Eastwood has committed a cardinal sin of running over his allotted time -- he was supposed to speak for 5 minutes but rambled on for 12 (taking away precious prime time minutes from the nominee, for whom, supposedly, he was shilling). I should hope that even as an aspiring actor (never mind an accomplished one), you knew not to overstay your invitation.

  • cwolf on August 31, 2012 11:00 PM:

    Hay Clint,,,
    You had a laugh pretending the Pres told you to go F&^k yourself.
    Well you won't need to pretend that I told you the same thing.

    Go F^&K yourself.
    HaHa

  • rea on September 01, 2012 9:00 AM:

    Well, you can be guaranteed that no true Republican used a teleprompter at the convention.

    Look closely at the photos and videos of the convention, and you will see that there are two teleprompters flanking the podium. See, for example:

    http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2012/08/30/150990554_10_620x350.jpg

  • wvmcl2 on September 01, 2012 10:43 AM:

    And don't forget that Carter, sans teleprompter, made one of the most embarrassing blunders ever in a convention speech: "Hubert Horatio Hornblower."

  • skeptonomist on September 01, 2012 1:29 PM:

    Of course Eastwood asked for a chair shortly before the performance; was he supposed to bring one from home or did he need one beforehand to rehearse it? This does not prove that his performance was impromptu. A more plausible explanation is that he really was expecting to be able to use a teleprompter (despite his supposed dislike) and in its absence just forgot his lines.