Did Clint Eastwood's bizarre convention speech actually help Mitt Romney?

Much of the world cringed as Eastwood berated an invisible Obama at the GOP convention. The Right is celebrating Eastwood's talk-to-the-chair speech as a misunderstood triumph

Clint Eastwood bows after talking to an empty chair at the GOP convention in Florida on Aug. 30: Some pundits suggest the the hubbub surrounding the actor's speech is, counterintuitively, a n
(Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Clint Eastwood's bizarre, unscripted speech at the Republican National Convention is something of a political Rorschach test. Republican delegates at the convention and conservative activists across the country loved the salty 12-minute "dialogue" with an invisible Obama seated in an empty chair; nonpartisan political reporters and most TV pundits declared it a momentum-sapping, off-message disaster; liberals loved the primetime spectacle of an aging actor hijacking Mitt Romney's big night; Team Romney was reportedly miffed; and President Obama declared himself a "huge Clint Eastwood fan" and shrugged off the actor's attacks. (For late-night comedians' takes, see video below.) Now, several days after Eastwood's speech, the political world is still engaged in "a heated debate about whether it was historically bad or sneaky good," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. Cillizza is firmly on the "historically bad" side, but the Right is energetically reclaiming Eastwood's cri de coeur as a successful rallying cry. Conservatives have appropriated the initially mocking Twitter meme "#Eastwooding" (photos of people berating empty chairs) and rechristened Labor Day as "Empty Chair Day." "Clint Eastwood resonated with voters outside the snotty, derisive NY-DC-Hollywood axis," conservative blogger Michelle Malkin tells Politico. "Activists on the Right wanted to demonstrate... their appreciation." Can Republicans turn Eastwood's widely panned performance into a political plus for Mitt Romney?

The pundits called this one wrong: Sure, "Eastwood's speech had notable shortcomings," says Joseph Charlton in Britain's The Independent. But the "predominantly derisive response" from the media missed the speech's "rousing effect on many putatively Republican-voting Americans." Eastwood was "stirringly patriotic" and "seductively old-fashioned," speaking with a colorful grandeur missing from the "bland and carefully scripted" Romney campaign. Besides, Eastwood's speech has gone viral on YouTube, and "any publicity is good publicity" for Romney.

"Why Eastwood's speech was not the disaster it seemed"

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Huh? Clint was an unmitigated disaster: Spin it all you want, but Eastwood's belittling attempt at standup comedy "was a train wreck that would not stop," says Alfred P. Doblin in New Jersey's The Record. And that does not reflect well on the man who invited him to speak, the supposedly hyper-competent Romney. If elected, "I hope Romney has better judgment when meeting with the Russians and Chinese." Because far from being intimidated by Dirty Harry, "in a chair somewhere in the White House, the real Barack Obama must be saying: 'Made my day.'"

"The good, the bad, and the ugly of Clint's imaginary friend"

But the attention helps obscure the convention's other flaws: I doubt "Chairgate" will "have any lasting impact on the race," says Melinda Henneberger at The Washington Post. But in the short term, it seems like a small net positive for Romney. With his Crazy Uncle Clint bit, "Eastwood made workaday Romney look blessedly sane by comparison." And have you noticed that after Eastwood, everyone is talking less and less about the GOP's alarming cognitive dissonance? Namely, "how the compassion [Paul] Ryan mentioned and the poverty Romney spoke of square with their plan to cut social programs and ask the middle class to subsidize the already well off." Every minute we spend arguing "whether [Eastwood's] routine was cringe-inducing, hilarious, or both," we ignore all the misleading statements uttered by GOP leaders at Romney's convention. And that's good for Mitt.

"Eastwood effect: Maybe it did make Romney's day"

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