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Eastwood says his convention appearance was
Published: September 7, 2012
AFTER A week as topic No. 1 in American
politics, former Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood said the outpouring
of criticism from left-wing reporters and liberal politicians
after his appearance at the Republican National Convention last
Thursday night, followed by an avalanche of support on Twitter
and in the blogosphere, is all the proof anybody needs that his
12-minute discourse achieved exactly what he intended it to.
“President Obama is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the
American people,” Eastwood told The Pine Cone this week. “Romney
and Ryan would do a much better job running the country, and
that’s what everybody needs to know. I may have irritated a lot
of the lefties, but I was aiming for people in the middle.”
Breaking his silence
For five days after he thrilled or horrified the nation by
talking to an empty chair representing Obama on the night Mitt
Romney accepted the Republican nomination for president,
Eastwood remained silent while pundits and critics debated
whether his remarks, and the rambling way he made them, had
helped or hurt Romney’s chances of winning in November.
But in a wide-ranging interview with The Pine Cone Tuesday from
his home in Pebble Beach, he said he had conveyed the messages
he wanted to convey, and that the spontaneous nature of his
presentation was intentional, too.
“I had three points I wanted to make,” Eastwood said. “That not
everybody in Hollywood is on the left, that Obama has broken a
lot of the promises he made when he took office, and that the
people should feel free to get rid of any politician who’s not
doing a good job. But I didn’t make up my mind exactly what I
was going to say until I said it.”
Eastwood’s appearance at the convention came after a personal
request from Romney in August, soon after Eastwood endorsed the
former Massachusetts governor at a fundraiser in Sun Valley,
Idaho. But it was finalized only in the last week before the
convention, along with an agreement to build suspense by keeping
it secret until the last moment.
Meanwhile, Romney’s campaign aides asked for details about what
Eastwood would say to the convention.
“They vet most of the people, but I told them, ‘You can’t do
that with me, because I don’t know what I’m going to say,’”
And while the Hollywood superstar has plenty of experience
being adored by crowds, he said he hasn’t given a lot of
speeches and admitted that, “I really don’t know how to.” He
also hates using a teleprompter, so it was settled in his mind
that when he spoke to the 10,000 people in the convention hall,
and the millions more watching on television, he would do it
“It was supposed to be a contrast with all the scripted speeches, because I’m Joe Citizen,” Eastwood said. “I’m a movie maker, but I have the same feelings as the average guy out there.”
Eastwood is a liberal on social issues such as gay marriage and
abortion, but he has strongly conservative opinions about the
colossal national debt that has accumulated while Obama has been
president, his failure to get unemployment below 6 percent, and
a host of other economic issues.
“Even people on the liberal side are starting to worry about
going off a fiscal cliff,” Eastwood said.
Last minute decisions
But what — exactly — would he say to the Republican delegates
about the $16 trillion national debt and 8.3 percent
Friends and associates weren’t as much help as he had hoped.
“Everybody had advice for me, except the janitor,” Eastwood
Early Thursday morning, when Eastwood left San Jose Airport on
a private jet headed for Florida, he was still making up his
mind. And even with his appearance just a few hours away, all
Eastwood could tell Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, and
his aides, was “to reassure them that everything I would say
would be nice about Mitt Romney.”
It was only after a quick nap in his hotel room a few blocks
from the convention site, Eastwood said, that he mapped out his
remarks — starting with his observation about politics in
Hollywood, then challenging the president about the failure of
his economic policies, and wrapping up by telling the public
“they don’t have to worship politicians, like they were royalty
But even then, with just an hour before he appeared on stage,
it still hadn’t occurred to Eastwood to use an empty chair as a
stand-in for the president.
“I got to the convention site just 15 or 20 minutes before I
was scheduled to go on,” he said. “That was fine, because
everything was very well organized.”
After a quick trip through airport-style security, he was taken
to a Green Room, where Archbishop Dolan of New York sought him
out to say hello. Then he was taken backstage to wait for his
cue. And that was when inspiration struck.
“There was a stool there, and some fella kept asking me if I
wanted to sit down,” Eastwood said. “When I saw the stool
sitting there, it gave me the idea. I’ll just put the stool out
there and I’ll talk to Mr. Obama and ask him why he didn’t keep
all of the promises he made to everybody.”
He asked a stagehand to take it out to the lectern while he was
“The guy said, ‘You mean you want it at the podium?’ and I
said, ‘No, just put it right there next to it.’”
Then, with the theme song from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”
as a musical introduction, and a huge picture of him as Josey
Wales as the backdrop, Eastwood walked out to tremendous
“The audience was super enthusiastic, and it’s always great
when they’re with you instead of against you,” he said.
Speaking without any notes, Eastwood recalled the good feelings
the whole nation had when Obama was elected, but said they had
been dashed as the economy stayed in the doldrums despite
massive stimulus spending. He decried the “stupid idea” of
closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and putting
terrorists on trial in New York City, joked about Vice President
Joe Biden’s intellect and quizzed empty-chair Obama about what
he says to people about his failed economic policies. He
pretended Obama told Romney to do something “physically
impossible” to himself, said it’s time to elect a “stellar
businessman” as president instead of a lawyer, and, as a final
point, told the people, “You own this country.”
When an elected official doesn’t “do the job, we’ve got to let
‘em go,” he said, and the crowd ate it up.
“They really seemed to be enjoying themselves,” Eastwood said.
Originally, he was told he could speak for six or seven
minutes, and right before he went on, he was asked to keep it to
five, but he said, “When people are applauding so much, it takes
you 10 minutes to say five minutes’ worth.”
Also, there were no signals or cues of any kind, so “when
you’re out there, it’s kind of hard to tell how much time is
He also said he was aware he hesitated and stumbled a bit, but
said “that’s what happens when you don’t have a written-out
As he wrapped up his remarks, he was aware his presentation was
“very unorthodox,” but that was his intent from the beginning,
even if some people weren’t on board.
“They’ve got this crazy actor who’s 82 years old up there in a
suit,” he said. “I was a mayor, and they’re probably thinking I
know how to give a speech, but even when I was mayor I never
gave speeches. I gave talks.”
Backstage, it was all congratulations and glad-handing, he
said. And then he returned to the Green Room, where he listened
to speeches by Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney. It wasn’t possible
for him to watch the media coverage of his presentation.
But the country was listening as the television reporters and
commentators covering his speech reacted to it. And they hated
“I have to say, as a fan, a movie fan, this was exceedingly
strange. It just seemed like a very strange, unscripted moment,”
said a shocked Andrea Mitchell on NBC.
“That was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a political
convention in my entire life,” said Rachel Maddow on MSNBC,
barely concealing the condescension in her voice.
Bob Schieffer of CBS said it was “a big mistake to put Clint
Eastwood on before Mitt Romney.”
On the Washington Post website, reporter Chris Cillizza wrote that “‘awkward’ may be the kindest term we can think of” to describe Eastwood’s speech.
“He hemmed. He hawed. He mumbled. He rambled,” Cillizza wrote.
And on CNN, Piers Morgan said Eastwood was “going bonkers” on
the stage and said his presentation “looked like complete
chaos.” He pressured his guests with questions like, “Weren’t
you in pain while he was up there?”
But Eastwood wasn’t aware of any of it, and after the speeches
were over, Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, came
backstage to thank him.
“They were very enthusiastic, and we were all laughing,”
When he went outside to his car, a large crowd cheered and
chanted lines from his speech.
An overnight rebellion
Back at his hotel, Eastwood had a room service dinner and went
to bed. The next morning, he got up early and went straight to
the airport, still unaware that his appearance was the No. 1
political topic in the nation.
“I read the Tampa newspaper, and every article said something
negative about the convention, but there wasn’t much about me,”
He had no idea that overnight, a rebellion had erupted online
against the media’s condemnation of him, with thousands of
bloggers, Twitterers and commentators calling him, “a genius,”
“1,000 times more brilliant than the media,” and saying he’s
“only gotten better with age.”
They also started posting their own versions of Eastwood’s
empty chair in droves (“eastwooding”), and, on YouTube, replays
of his remarks at the convention were being viewed millions of
Even into his 80s, Eastwood has an unprecedented record of
success in Hollywood, and is still making two movies a year.
He’s currently starring in “Trouble with the Curve,” and is
about to direct a remake of “A Star is Born” — things he
obviously couldn’t do if he were a befuddled senior citizen. To
locals who know him, the idea that he is uninformed or senile is
Nevertheless, the bitter criticism has continued.
On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa called
Eastwood “the perfect icon of the Republican tea party: an angry
old white man spewing incoherent nonsense.”
Eastwood said people, including reporters, who were shocked by
his remarks “are obviously on the left,” and he maintained that,
while many Americans didn’t like the way he handled his
convention appearance, millions more have something else on
“A lot of people are realizing they had the wool pulled over their eyes by Obama,” Eastwood said.