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Clint Eastwood arrived at the Republican national convention as Mitt Romney’s mystery guest, and left much the same way after an 11-minute monologue that befuddled the candidate’s campaign and family.
The appearance by the Hollywood actor and director, a longtime Republican, was designed to add star power to a convention elaborately organised to relaunch Mr Romney’s campaign.
Ann Romney and her family gave the actor a standing ovation when he came on stage, but the candidate’s wife’s smile froze as Mr Eastwood conjured up a dialogue with an imaginary Barack Obama in an empty chair beside him. Mr Eastwood mumbled a near incoherent endorsement of Mr Romney and made no exception for him when he mocked politicians who came “begging” for votes every few years.
The veteran film-maker seemed to have arrived on stage with neither a director nor a script. “He’s a unique guy and he did a unique thing last night,’’ Mrs Romney told CBS on Friday, adding that she “didn’t know it was coming”.
Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s Republican governor, said he “cringed” watching it.
Unlike other convention speakers, the Romney campaign did not clear the details of Mr Eastwood’s performance. But while political professionals decried Mr Eastwood’s indiscipline, convention delegates seemed to enjoy him and his monologue caused a storm online.
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By Friday morning, Mr Eastwood’s speech had attracted more than 560,000 online video views and more than 10,000 comments – more than any other speech during the Republican convention. Mr Romney’s speech had just 35,000 views.
“It is crazy. This video has been live for just over 12 hours. It is only going to grow from here,” said Matt Fiorentino of Visible Measures, an online measurement firm.
Immediately following the speech, a Twitter user created an account with the handle “@invisibleobama”. The account had attracted more than 43,000 followers by Friday morning.
One of its first Tweets –“The GOP built me” – was retweeted more than 2,200 times. The #eastwooding hashtag, used to tag the subject of a Tweet, was trending in the US on Friday morning. Several users posted pictures of empty chairs.
Mr Obama’s camp responded quickly. The official Twitter account for his campaign posted a picture of Mr Obama in a presidential chair with the line, “This seat’s taken.” It was retweeted more than 35,000 times. As for Mr Eastwood, he told friends he had a “great time”.