Clint Eastwood's RNC speech an unscripted moment

Clint Eastwood
Actor Clint Eastwood gestures while speaking to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

(CBS News) All political conventions are precisely stage-managed to make sure nothing takes the spotlight away from the candidate's message. So many folks were surprised when the Romney campaign allowed 82-year-old Clint Eastwood to walk on stage, in prime time, without a script.

What happened next, in the view of many delegates, was sometimes amusing, often confusing.

In a convention otherwise scripted down to the second, Clint Eastwood's appearance was the one un-rehearsed moment.

But Dirty Harry went rogue.

"I've got Mr. Obama sitting here," the 82-year-old said gesturing to an empty chair.

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The furniture was a last-minute backstage request. According to a Romney campaign official, "he just asked a prop person to bring a chair out and the prop person thought he would just sit in it."

Instead, Eastwood launched into an often-rambling conversation with a phantom president.

"I think it is maybe time - what do you think - for maybe a businessman," he asked the empty chair.

In his act, which Romney officials say was totally improvised, Eastwood imagined the president answering back.

"What do you mean, shut up?" Eastwood said.

Eastwood also had the invisible Mr. Obama uttering obscenities.

"What do you want to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. I can't tell him to do that to himself," the actor said theatrically.

Eastwood was scheduled to speak for 5 minutes, but ignored the red light to wrap up and spoke for twice as long.

As traffic on Twitter about the actor's bizarre speech spiked, the Romney campaign rushed out a statement even as their candidate was delivering his acceptance speech.

"Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn't work," the statement said. "His ad-libbing was a break from all the political speeches, and the crowd enjoyed it."

But the Obama campaign quickly tweeted a picture of the president in his White House chair - with the caption "this seat is taken."

And the morning after Romney's big moment, it was Eastwood who was the top trending topic on Google.

One Republican official told CBS News political director John Dickerson said Eastwood was not scripted because they didn't want to "rein in his creativity." But when asked after the speech, a senior Romney adviser rolled his eyes, and acknowledged "it was a distraction." One they couldn't turn off.

As another Republican official put it: "It's Clint Eastwood. If Elvis wants to sing a longer song, do you turn off his mic?"

  • Anthony Mason
    Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"