, TAMPA, Florida, Aug 31 – Hollywood tough guy Clint Eastwood made a bizarre cameo Thursday at the Republican convention, veering into a surreal conversation with an imaginary President Barack Obama represented by an empty chair.
His off-color and at times rambling performance spawned an immediate debate on the Twittersphere between Republicans, who broadly loved it, and Democrats who said the 82-year-old multiple Oscar winner had clearly lost his marbles.
A raucous roar went up from the thousands of delegates as Eastwood, looking frailer than the gunslinging cowboys he portrayed in his spaghetti Western heyday, stood onstage and grilled the imaginary Obama for failing to revive a flagging economy.
“I think possibly now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem,” Eastwood said during an address in which he taunted Vice President Joe Biden and talked about the detention center at Guantanamo.
The Oscar-winning director of “Million-Dollar Baby” and star of Spaghetti Westerns like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” looked down several times at the empty chair, as if he was listening to Obama criticize Republican presidential nominee Romney, whom Eastwood has endorsed.
“He can’t do that to himself. You’re absolutely crazy!” the actor/director responded.
“You’re getting as bad as Biden. Biden is the intellect in the Democratic Party. It’s just kind of a grin with a body behind it.”
“And I thought, well closing Gitmo, why close that, we spent so much money on it. But, I thought maybe as an excuse — what do you mean shut up?” he said to laughter from the crowd.
Eastwood spoke about how he had been moved by Obama’s message of hope and change in 2008, but then grew disillusioned by failed policies and Obama’s inability to reduce the unemployment rate below eight percent.
“I think it may be time for, what do you think, maybe a businessman,” said Eastwood, referring to Romney, who became fabulously wealthy as a successful private equity investor.
“When somebody does not do the job, you’ve gotta let them go,” he said of Obama, as he then drew a finger sharply across his throat.
The awkwardness of Eastwood’s rant seemed magnified given that he was taking up a prime spot on the climactic day of the convention that nominated Romney as the challenger against Obama in the November 6 election.
But the Romney campaign insisted there was no harm, no foul.
“Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn’t work,” a spokesperson for the campaign said in a statement.
“His ad-libbing was a break from all the political speeches, and the crowd enjoyed it.”
Clint’s 12-minute appearance exploded Twitter and other social media, where the fad suddenly slapped with the hashtag #Eastwooding” — in which people post photos of empty chairs — spread like wildfire.
Obama himself got into the act, tweeting “This seat’s taken” to his 19 million followers and attaching a link to a fundraising web page.
The social media commentary grew so fast, with tweets from celebrities and unknowns alike, that several websites compiled best-of lists of Eastwood remarks.
“I still like Clint Eastwood,” tweeted writer and comedian Frank Conniff (@FrankConniff).
“A crazy Republican talking to a chair is the least harm a crazy Republican has done in ages.”