How Clint Eastwood's odd Obama speech turned Republican stomachs
Clint Eastwood's eccentric performance at last year's Republican National Convention earned the veteran actor and film-maker some of the most bemused reviews of his illustrious career. Now a new book sheds light on how it played to the Republican faithful within the auditorium. One senior strategist was so horrified by the spectacle, it is alleged, that he promptly took himself off to vomit.
Double Down, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, details the negotiations that led to Eastwood making a surprise appearance at the August 2012 convention. It is claimed that Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, was "starstruck" by his association with Eastwood and that the film-maker's speech was not vetted beforehand. Once at the podium, the Unforgiven star implied that Barack Obama had directed profanities at both himself and Romney. He then appeared to conduct a lengthy conversation with an empty chair.
Variety reports that Eastwood's central idea of addressing an imaginary Obama was prompted by listening to the Neil Diamond song I Am … I Said in his hotel room before taking the stage.
The song contains a line about speaking to an empty chair. "And no one heard at all, not even the chair," sings Diamond.
Eastwood's performance was watched backstage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum by both Romney and his senior strategist, Stuart Stevens. Double Down claims that Romney "seemed to think [the speech] was funny – at least at first", but that Stevens was altogether less impressed. It alleges that, after witnessing the "disaster occurring on stage", Stevens "excused himself, went into another room and vomited".
Away in the outside world, the reaction was marginally less explosive. Eastwood's rambling, freestyle address prompted a storm on Twitter and provided grist for US chatshow hosts in the weeks that followed. "Clint, my hero, is coming across as sad and pathetic," wrote the American film critic Roger Ebert. "He didn't need to do this to himself. It's unworthy of him."
Eastwood, for his part, appeared altogether more sanguine. He later remarked: "If somebody's dumb enough to ask me to say something, they're going to have to take what they can get."