Eastwood’s speech: ‘Classic improv’ or ‘bizarre’?

Views of actor’s appearance predictably mixed days later

Three days after Clint Eastwood’s rambling, on-stage “conversation” with an imaginary Barack Obama, Republicans and Democrats were split on whether the improvisational bit helped or hurt Mitt Romney.

On Sunday’s political talk shows, Democrats were careful not to insult the legendary Hollywood actor and director, but they made it clear they think the strange performance at the Republican National Convention hurts Mr. Romney.

“The reason we’re discussing Clint Eastwood is because there was nothing memorable about Mitt Romney’s speech,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“They didn’t want a debate about Clint Eastwood,” Mr. Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, said. “You have a convention, you want it to be about your candidate’s ideas, not about a bizarre performance.”

Mr. Emanuel’s old boss played it cool in responding to Mr. Eastwood, joking in a tweet: “One thing about being president or running for president — if you’re easily offended, you should probably choose another profession.”

The president went on to tell USA Today, “I’m a huge Clint Eastwood fan.”

That message was repeated several times Sunday by Obama surrogates.

“We’re all Clint Eastwood fans here in the Obama campaign,” David Plouffe, an Obama senior campaign strategist, told ABC’s “This Week.”

Immediately after Mr. Eastwood’s appearance Thursday, the Romney campaign defended the actor’s unscripted endorsement of the Republican candidate.

“He spoke from the heart with a classic improv sketch which everyone at the convention loved,” campaign adviser Stuart Stevens said.

By Sunday, though, Republicans were trying to turn the focus away from Mr. Eastwood back toward Mr. Romney.

“To some extent, I think it was a distraction,” former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “If you’re Mitt Romney and your choice is to have ‘Saturday Night Live’ pick on Clint Eastwood or pick on you, I think I would give them Clint Eastwood.”

“I think Obama has a hard sell in the next two months,” Mr. Gingrich added. “If that Friday morning jobs report is bad, it will drown his speech. It will be a lot bigger deal than Clint Eastwood was last week.”

The Eastwood appearance, in which the legendary actor growled at an empty chair and dismissed the Obama administration’s first-term record on jobs as a “national disgrace,” provided fodder for political humorists all weekend, with “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno calling the bit a “debacle,” and Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart declaring it a “fistful of awesome.”

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