Romney Campaign Totally Thought Clint Eastwood’s Empty Chair Bit Was a Hoot

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Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Though it's difficult to believe Mitt Romney was enjoying himself during Clint Eastwood's casual RNC chair chat on Thursday, Stuart Stevens, Romney's top message man, wants us to believe that the candidate was a fan of the improvised sketch. "I was backstage with him and he was laughing, thought it was funny," Stevens told Politico's Ginger Gibson. Ann Romney, not quite willing to go all the way to "funny," told CBS's This Morning that, "we appreciated Clint's support and he's a unique guy and he did a unique thing," which is true as far as political conventions go

The skit was so pilloried, in fact, by pretty much everyone (with the exception of Rush Limbaugh , who called it a "bold" performance) that Romney staffers were loathe to admit responsibility for it. Stevens and his partner-in-strategy Russ Schriefer, who OK'd the cameo, say they gave Eastwood some talking points (some of which he incorporated) and a firm 5-minute time limit, which Eastwood exceeded by seven minutes. No one bothered to include Eastwood in the dress rehearsals.

As for the now-famous empty chair, no one in the campaign had been notified. In fact, Eastwood requested it from a staffer just moments before going onstage: 

I never discussed, I mean, about a chair. It was an idea, a moment that moved him, I would say, and he went with it. … He hit points that he’d hit before in the funders and were good points. He just chose this narrative way to deliver it.

Not that his confused performance should even be a story, insists the Romney campaign. "Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn't work," reads the official campaign line on the matter. "His ad libbing was a break from all the political speeches, and the crowd enjoyed it." As a Romney spokesperson told CNN's Piers Morgan (who likened Eastwood to "the slightly crazy uncle at the Christmas party who’s had one too many sherries") backstage: "He's an American icon. You can't look at him at through the same political lens that you would other politicians. He's Clint Eastwood."

Indeed, Clintwood is just about the only Hollywood star power — apart from Jon Voight and Chuck Norris — that the GOP can muster, so it's no wonder they got a little desperate for some glamour. "He went out and did what actors do sometimes," Stuart Stevens insisted, as he continued his damage control tour. "He did a little improv." And there's no guarantees with improv, as Clint Eastwood in The Rookie knew all too well: if "you want a guarantee, buy a toaster."