At first glance, Clint Eastwood’s cringe-inducing attempt at comedy in the closing hour of the Republican convention would appear to be a monumentally boneheaded move by the Romney campaign.
It was far worse than that.
The actor’s bizarre interlude essentially negated a solid if unspectacular performance by the Republican nominee for president.
Eastwood, quite simply, made the Democrats’ day.
How can I attribute such overriding importance to an ill-fated bit of entertainment?
Easy. All it requires is a basic knowledge of media behavior and human nature.
It’s not too much to say that what happened in Tampa will be remembered as the Clint Eastwood convention, and the Tropical Storm Isaac convention.
The difference is that one of them was a man-made disaster.
By debating an empty chair that he pretended was President Obama—riffing through a series of strained jokes without a teleprompter—Eastwood ensured that at least half the chatter on Friday morning would be about him, not Romney. But by the weekend, that figure will rise to about 98 percent. And by Monday, Romney’s acceptance speech will be largely forgotten.
For the media, Eastwood’s Hollywood fame is a mighty magnet, which is precisely the reason the campaign trotted him out as a mystery guest. And journalists weary of a highly scripted convention can hardly be blamed for feasting on an episode that veered so badly off script.
As for ordinary folks, water-cooler talk tends to revolve around a memorable line or telling anecdote. Romney, with his policy-laden indictment of Obama’s tenure, conspicuously failed to deliver a highly personal moment or even a catchy sound bite.
Eastwood, who was supposed to be the warm-up act for Marco Rubio introducing Romney, wound up with marquee billing. Dirty Harry shot his way into the center ring.
Some partisans undoubtedly thought Eastwood was funny and that the MSM should lighten up. But the media set the narrative, and within seconds on Twitter, where an @InvisibleObama account popped up, Eastwood’s reviews were about as positive as those for Howard Dean’s scream.
It takes great talent to upstage a man accepting his party’s presidential nomination. Clint Eastwood was equal to the task.