The Inside Story Of Why Clint Eastwood Talked To An Empty Chair At The GOP Convention

"It was just baffling."
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

As Clint Eastwood took the stage of the Tampa Bay Times Forum on the night of September 3, 2012, it became quickly apparent that his would not be a typical Republican National Convention speech.

The Oscar-winning actor/director/legend entered in dramatic fashion with the backdrop screen showing a large silhouette of him from "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" and the score of that film blaring from the arena’s speakers. It was an entrance fit for a prizefighter and the crowd ate it up.

All anybody remembers about that convention is what happened next.

You remember, right?

When Eastwood talked to an empty chair, acting as if the spirit of President Barack Obama had been propped up on the wooden seat to listen to his speech. At one point, the invisible Obama apparently told Eastwood to tell Romney to go fuck himself. By the time it was over, most viewers were trying to comprehend why it had been allowed to happen in the first place.

In the latest episode of "Candidate Confessional," Stuart Stevens, Romney's top strategist, reveals the backstory behind that infamous bit of prop comedy.

Eastwood, it turns out, was not supposed to have appeared that night but, rather, the night before. But a hurricane had hit Tampa and forced the campaign to cancel a day of the convention.

Stevens wasn't even sure if Eastwood would show up for his rescheduled appearance. “It was always, would he actually get on the plane," he said. And the contingency plan was to show an impeccably produced video on Romney's biography had he not made it to the conventional hall.

But Eastwood showed up.

Before the speech, Eastwood suggested "this sort of crazy thing he wanted to do” -- as Stevens put it -- which was to show a scene from "The Outlaw Josey Wales" with him and an Indian discussing government “And, I was like, 'No, we’re not going to do that,” Stevens said.

With that idea scrapped, they went over specifics of a more standard speech like how long he would be on stage and where the actor would go when he finished. Eastwood didn't use teleprompters, Stevens noted, because he doesn't like wearing glasses. But he was a pro -- and had spoken at two Romney campaign events before. There wasn't great concern about him going wildly off script.

And then, Eastwood saw a chair and got inspired. "He was just there by the stage and decided to do this other thing. It was just baffling," Stevens said. "It was bizarre.”

Out of sight, Romney was busy working on his own address, unaware that his carefully planned convention had just been upended by an empty chair. "It was hard to see what was actually happening on television," Stevens recalled. And even if he could, it probably wouldn't have affected him much. "His head was into his speech."

Listen to the podcast above, or download it on iTunes. And while you're there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. Make sure to tune in to next week's episode, when our guest will be Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor of Texas in 2014.

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