The discomfort of Ann Romney, appearing on “CBS This Morning” on Friday, spoke volumes about how the Eastwood moment was received. She tried her best to be positive, but she clearly was surprised by what she had witnessed onstage. As the broadcast networks were opening their prime-time coverage, what Americans saw was not that well-produced video but a celebrated actor talking — sometimes talking trash — to an empty chair that was a proxy for President Obama.
Give the Romney campaign some credit for the week. Most of the convention was smooth and professionally produced. Russ Schriefer, the campaign adviser who oversaw the message operation in Tampa, skillfully repackaged four nights into three after then-Tropical Storm Isaac seemed ready to descend upon the area. The stage was handsome, and multiple high-definition screens behind the speakers added impressively to the program.
But political campaigns operate in a beastly environment, which is one way to describe the insatiable appetite of a political and media world that consumes information and events at a breathtaking pace and stops to focus when something bizarre, unexpected, spectacular or foolish occurs. Cable and talk radio seized on. Twitter blew up over it. News Web sites saw a spike in traffic on anything Eastwood related.
And so, in the aftermath of an evening that overall accomplished much of what everyone said Romney needed to do with his convention, the beast was focused on Eastwood as much or more than on Romney’s speech or anything else from the show.
Like debates, conventions are a time to elevate out of the daily scrum. They provide a moment when candidates and campaign advisers get the opportunity to speak to the widest audience, to people not hanging on every small development, snarky tweet or sarcastic e-mail from one campaign about another.
But it’s not as though the beast disappears at those moments. While the Romney campaign was feeding what it thought was valuable and new content to voters who still don’t know a lot about the GOP nominee — the biographical video, and emotional testimonials from people whom Romney has helped — it unexpectedly served up an unscripted moment that proved irresistible to the inside world.
The performance by Eastwood, the famously gravelly voiced actor and director, may have gone down well in the Tampa Bay Times Forum. But it looked bizarre on the television screen.
Will all this matter much? Probably not. It was a screen shot from a larger video — vivid and memorable but not necessarily lasting. Romney and his advisers no doubt believe they got from their week in Tampa much of what they had hoped for.