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They dismiss the negative reviews as so much media carping

Mitt Romney’s campaign insists it isn’t concerned about the way that Clint Eastwood hijacked the final hour of the Republican convention with a bizarre empty-chair routine that is being widely panned by the media.

“We know it played well in the hall,” Stuart Stevens, the candidate’s top strategist, told me Friday. “I think it played well in the living room. We’re not really concerned about how it played in the green room.”

Romney aides say privately that they did not know what Eastwood was planning to do when he launched into a rambling, sometimes incoherent dialogue with an imaginary President Obama--including the suggestion that Obama had told Romney to perform an anatomically impossible act on himself.

“He just decided to do this,” one said. “He’s an actor. It was improv. He doesn’t like to work off teleprompters. He’s been great before.”


Clint Hijacks Romney’s Moment


Actor Clint Eastwood speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Eastwood’s weird convention routine was more than a mere mistake. Howard Kurtz on how it fundamentally changed the GOP narrative in Tampa—and will end up eclipsing Romney’s acceptance speech.

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.

The former presidential candidate hits back at Debbie Wasserman Schultz and explains why he's glad to be done with politics.

Mike Huckabee says it was the elephant in the room. 

The former Arkansas governor tells me in a video interview that he mentioned Mitt Romney's religion in his Republican convention speech because "a lot of people had this narrative that evangelicals are not going to vote for a Mormon, that somehow that makes it suspect. I think we have to talk about it."

Huckabee repeated to me his line—picked up by Maureen Dowd—that you don't care if your neurosurgeon is a jerk if your life is at stake. 


Paul Ryan’s Wonk Attack!

The vice presidential nominee used a folksy style and policy chops to make the case against the incumbent. Howard Kurtz on why his speech was effective.

Paul Ryan made a generational pitch for fresh leadership on Wednesday, slamming the Obama administration with these words: “Fear and division is all they’ve got left.”

‘Paul Ryan attacks Obama’s stimulus plan.’

Stepping into the national spotlight at the Republican convention, the vice presidential nominee wasted no time praising Mitt Romney’s “character and decency.” Nor did he wait long to introduce his cute children in the audience, or describe himself as the son of a small-town lawyer also named Paul.

It could not be described as an electrifying speech—Ryan isn’t the barn-burner type—but his plain-spoken, Midwestern style played well in the Tampa arena. True to his reputation as one of the GOP’s leading intellectuals, it was something of a wonky speech sprinkled with folksy references—such as one to his home town of Janesville, Wisc., where “a lot of guys I went to high school with” worked at a GM plant that shut down.

Why the Fox anchor thinks the press is unfair--and what she looks like in the morning

I’ve heard the usual critique of Mitt Romney—stiff, reserved, out of touch—so many times I assume that it’s a pretty solid consensus. Even Romney’s top strategists concede he isn’t comfortable talking about himself.

But Megyn Kelly thinks that assessment is way overplayed.

The idea “that Romney has difficulty coming off as a real person,” trumpeted by the mainstream media, “there’s a little bias in that,” the Fox News anchor tells me in a video interview. “Really? Says who?...I don’t think that should be a headline in a straight newspaper: ‘Romney needs to prove he’s an actual man!’”

As for the coverage of Barack Obama, Kelly says, “Much of the press is still hoping that they were right the first time around. That’s the danger of planting an ideological flag as a reporter.” But while convinced that the press “leans left,” she says, “I think they’re giving him a little bit of a harder time now.”


Ann Soars, Christie Stumbles

The candidate’s wife scored in describing a “real marriage” while the governor barely mentioned Romney. Howard Kurtz on an uneven convention kickoff.

The spouse and the would-be running mate faced similar challenges on Tuesday night, to do for Mitt Romney what he has been unable to do for himself.


AP Photo (2)

Ann Romney, by far the warmer of the couple, had some success. Chris Christie, who flirted with a presidential run, did himself a whole lot of good, but maybe not much for Romney.

They combined to kick off the Republican convention with a singular task: to offer a richer portrait of a nominee who somehow, at this late date, still needs a proper introduction to the American people.

Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee prepared on Sunday for his upcoming speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The former presidential candidate has a novel way to sell staid old Mitt Romney. He talks to Howard Kurtz about his upcoming convention speech.

As a retail politician, Mike Huckabee is everything that Mitt Romney is not: warm, funny, and a natural performer.

At the Republican convention here in Tampa, where the former presidential candidate speaks on Wednesday night, he’s devised a neat formulation to sell a nominee so different in style and tone.

“Mitt Romney is Ward Cleaver,” he tells me. “He’s the dad who can sit down and in a calm, gracious voice make you want to do the right thing and pay for the window you broke with your baseball … He’s not a braggart.”

Perhaps sensing that likening the nominee to a 1950s sitcom character might not be sufficiently dramatic, Huckabee switches to a medical metaphor.


Romney: Personality Isn’t Everything

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney greets supporters at a campaign rally Saturday in Powell, Ohio. (Evan Vucci / AP Photo)

As Tampa is soaked, the Republican candidate launches a preemptive media blitz. Howard Kurtz on how Romney’s finally making use of the mainstream media’s megaphone.

The GOP convention hasn’t gotten underway, but Mitt Romney just conceded the likability contest.

“I don’t think everybody likes me,” Romney told Politico in an interview published Monday. “I don’t believe that, by any means. But I do believe that people of this country are looking for someone who can get the country growing again with more jobs and more take-home pay, and I think they realize this president had four years to do that.”

Translation: The other guy may be more affable and charming, but the economy is still a mess. You don’t have to love me, just give me a shot at the job.

The rain here in Tampa, though not yet at tropical-storm levels, has put a damper on the now delayed convention. But you don’t need a big arena to make news. Romney, who spent much of the campaign avoiding the mainstream media, is finally making use of their megaphone. And he is trying to steer the contest away from the politics of personality.

Storm Chasers

Isaac Could Blow Away Romney

The storm could spare Florida, but the GOP convention may never recover. From Tampa, Howard Kurtz on why the media are chasing the more dramatic story—a possible Category 2 hurricane barreling toward New Orleans.

Tampa, and the Republican convention, may have dodged a meteorological bullet.

But even as Tropical Storm Isaac veers off further down the Gulf Coast, defying earlier predictions, the fallout still threatens to inflict heavy damage on Mitt Romney’s big national moment.


AP Photo; Landov

It’s not just that Monday looks to rain on the parade of the thousands of journalists and delegates assembling here. Nor is it the quick decision by GOP officials to pull the plug on Monday’s events, bumping big-name speakers such as Mike Huckabee and losing a valuable day in the spotlight.


Isaac Delays Convention

As the tropical storm churns toward Tampa, party officials had little choice but to cancel the Monday kickoff of Romney’s coronation. Howard Kurtz on why the media wouldn’t cover it anyway.

TAMPA—Hurricane Isaac has hijacked Mitt Romney’s convention, and the damage is as hard to calculate as the extent of the damage from the coming storm.

RNC Hurricane

NOAA / Getty Images

Even as the sun filled the blue sky here after a day of light rain late Saturday, Republican Party officials decided to pull the plug on Monday’s proceedings, wiping out a quarter of the convention. And in truth they had no choice.

It’s not just that the party had to worry about the safety of delegates getting into the city. That goes without saying. But the media coverage will be so heavily focused on the storm and its effect on Florida’s west coast as to blot out any speechifying.

A CNN anchor moves away from passive neutrality

Is Wolf Blitzer increasingly indulging in opinion?

In a video interview in The Situation Room, I asked the CNN anchor about the way he’s been challenging political figures lately. He told Donald Trump he was sounding ridiculous on the birther question, and repeatedly pressed Democratic chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to admit that Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan wouldn’t affect anyone now 55 and older.

Blitzer admitted to being more aggressive than in the past. “The notion that politicians can come on and think they’re getting a free ride, I think that’s ancient history. ..We want to ask tough questions, and when we hear something that’s clearly factually wrong, we push back.” He added: “Sometimes people hate you in the process of that, the partisan types on both sides, but it equals out.”

Negative Coverage

Media’s Candidate Hate Fest

Talk about balanced: the coverage of Obama and Romney has been relentlessly negative. Howard Kurtz examines the nasty narratives, pitting Mr. Ineffectual against Mr. Moneybags.

Maybe the conservative critics are right: A whopping 71 percent of the media narrative about Mitt Romney has been negative, a new study says.


Jewel Samad, AFP / Getty Images

But wait: the same report says 72 percent of the media treatment of President Obama has been negative as well.

Apparently, journalists don’t think much of either guy.

Former Foes

Santorum: Why Romney Might Lose

The former senator is heading to Tampa to speak on behalf of his former rival. He tells Howard Kurtz what Romney must avoid if he is to beat Obama.

Rick Santorum has a simple formulation for how the 2012 election will turn out.


Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (L) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate in a debate sponsored by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center February 22, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

“If the campaign is about issues, we win,” he tells me. “If it’s about Mitt Romney’s record as a businessman, then we don’t win. If it’s about Mitt Romney’s tax returns, then we don’t win. If it’s about whether people like Mitt Romney more than Barack Obama, then we don’t win.”

Despite his bruising primary battle with Romney, Santorum is heading to the Tampa convention next week as a loyal Republican lieutenant on behalf of the party’s ticket. He is energized by Romney’s pick of a fellow Catholic conservative, Paul Ryan—there “couldn’t have been a better choice."

Are journalists capable of elevating the debate?

When I asked Chris Cillizza about the name-calling, deception and pettiness that has defined this presidential campaign, he didn’t hem and haw.

“The smallness of our politics is baked in at this point,” the Washington Post blogger, editor and author of The Gospel According to The Fix told me. “We talk about the idea of high-mindedness…and yet all of those conversations inevitably boil down to what you can fit in a 30-second ad, what you can tweet out, and that winds up driving the debate.”

Kurtz and Cillizza talk Paul Ryan and the media's gaffe obsession.

Are journalists partially to blame? Cillizza notes that one of the most popular stories on the Post’s website is not about Paul Ryan’s legislative record but about his P90X workout.

He beats Romney in social media, but does that matter?

President Obama is creaming Mitt Romney in one increasingly important arena—the digital campaign.

The Obama team, admittedly with a four-year head start, is far more engaged in social media, says a new report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Obama has 27 million Facebook likes to 2.9 million for Romney. The president has 18 million Twitter followers; the former Massachusetts governor has 787,000. And Obama videos have been viewed 207 million times on YouTube, compared to 15 million for Romney.

Obama is engaged in more careful targeting than in 2008. Users can sign up for 18 different groups, from Native Americans to Jewish Americans.

About the Author

Author headshot

Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast and Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, and writes the Spin Cycle blog. He also hosts CNN’s weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.


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