Clint Eastwood “is a unique guy and he did a unique thing last night,” was how the ever-tactful Ann Romney described it today.
A spokesman for her husband meanwhile insisted that Mitt “enjoyed” the “ad-libbing,” and claimed that: “Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn't work.“
That was one way to look at Thursday night’s big talking point: the 12-minute speech in which Hollywood’s most famous Republican conducted a rambling and at times barely-coherent conversation with an empty chair that was supposed to represent President Barack Obama.
The other way was evident to viewers of the nation’s rolling news channels, where pundits reacted with something approaching disbelief.
On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow dubbed it “the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a political convention in my life.” On CNN, Piers Morgan threw around such adjectives as “bonkers,” and “downright crackers,” asking: “what went on out there?”
Even the normally-loyal Fox News seemed baffled. “Let me say that I get paid to review politicians,” said pundit Chris Wallace. “There’s no way I’m going to touch Clint Eastwood’s performance tonight.”
The legendary actor and director, who is 82, had been unveiled as the “surprise guest” who would take the stage immediately before Mr Romney, to add a morale-boosting layer of stardust to proceedings.
He was scheduled to speak for five minutes. But in the event, Eastwood went on for more than twice as long. Unassisted by autocue, he was said by organisers to have veered dramatically from his expected script.
“What do you want me to tell Romney?” Eastwood asked the empty chair at one point. “I can't tell him to do that to himself ... you're getting as bad as Biden... of course we all know Biden is the intellect of the Democratic Party. Kind of a grin with a body behind it...“
The crowd applauded politely. But floating voters watching on TV could have been forgiven for wondering if the Dirty Harry star had taken his medications. In the VIP box, Romney and Ryan sat stony-faced at the bizarre spectacle that was hogging valuable prime-time.
A lifelong Conservative, Eastwood has repeatedly clashed with Hollywood liberals. In 2008, he publicly told Spike Lee to “shut his face,” after the black director criticised his failure to include African-American actors in World War Two films.
This year, he has made several odd career choices. In February, the supposed Republican agreed to star in a GM commercial interpreted as an endorsement of President Obama’s auto bailout. And in June, after a lifetime guarding his privacy, Eastwood opened his home to a reality TV crew who trailed second wife, Dina, the mother of one of the seven children he has fathered with five different women.