Clint Eastwood Makes Whose Day at Republican National Convention?
Let's face it, they are more pep rallies than platforms for serious political discourse. But still they are the one time that each party has the national stage to itself and has the opportunity to reach beyond their constituency to tell their story and hopefully sway independents.
These events are carefully orchestrated and scripted. The individuals chosen to speak work for weeks, even months on their speeches. Roles are carefully carved out and the speeches are synchronized to synergistically build upon each other ending with a hoped-for crescendo from the nominee.
On the final night of the Republican National Convention (RNC), Florida Senator Marco Rubio accomplished his mission. By telling the story of his family's classic immigrant struggle and success, he connected that universally appealing imagery to the Republican Party's message of self-reliance, seizing opportunity and working hard so that the next generation of the family can live a better life. With his Cuban heritage and youthful appearance, Rubio presented a very different image of what the public generally conjures up when it thinks of Republicans.
Now let's talk about Clint.
Leading into last night, the Republican Party had done a masterful job of "leaking" that there would be a special speaker. By allowing the media to monitor the staging activities, which included the playing of the famous theme song from The Good the Bad and the Ugly, they were successful in creating the buzz they wanted that Clint Eastwood would address the convention. Even the politically apathetic might tune in to hear what the iconic Mr. Eastwood would have to say.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, that was the high point. It all went downhill from there, and fast. In a rambling, unscripted speech in which he spoke to an empty chair, which was by proxy supposed to be President Obama, Clint came off as an old and sometimes confusing white conservative -- the kind of stereotype the party should be working to get beyond. Immediately the Twittersphere blew up, with the vast majority of comments either being critical, or even worse, poking fun.
As a communications professional I can only say, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? Certainly not clearly.
Let's consider a few basics that were forgotten:
- Clint's unscripted speech. This should never have happened. Didn't the RNC discuss this with him? Reports are that Romney spent weeks working on his. Every word carefully chosen. Intonation, gestures and pauses timed to elicit reactions from the crowd. Letting Clint essentially freelance put the RNC in the position of not knowing what would happen. It played well to the constituency, but not so much beyond that.
- Message consistency. By giving Clint free reign he veered away from the core messages the party wanted to convey about their vision and focused more on bashing the President. Of course, every speech has an element of this, but Clint's delivery came off more like a scene that belonged in Angry Old Men.
- Using a celebrity. More often than not this is a double-edged sword. Celebrities by nature can be polarizing. Obama and the Democrats have always been seen as the choice of the entertainment industry. Very few Hollywood celebrities have publicly aligned themselves with the Republican party. The only one that quickly comes to mind is Kelsey Grammer. Maybe the RNC was trying to show America that they have celebrity endorsements too. Maybe they thought that someone as famous and well-respected as Clint Eastwood would bring some coolness and credibility. But unfortunately, as great as Clint has been, and still is in my opinion, he was clearly not the man for this job.
Now the Republicans are in cleanup mode. I would guess that there is a lot of behind-the-scenes finger pointing in Romney's camp right now and maybe some heads will fall. Clint's performance will be the subject of conversation for a few days, but it will eventually fade away. The Republicans' best strategy will be to limit their comments on Clint's speech and move on.
In the long run, the shame in all of this won't be what Clint did, but how the Republicans failed in their preparation and discipline in delivering their message.