The Romney team, following up on a strong convention, outfoxed the president by making a stop in Louisiana to view the Isaac storm damage and empathize with the victims. (No word if Mitt Romney folded everyone’s laundry and brought dinner as well.) President Obama hadn’t yet gone, so he was forced to cancel an Ohio event and scramble to get there himself. He was quite literally racing to catch up to Romney’s lead. One could imagine that after a convention in which $150 million of its negative ads were brushed aside, the Obama team has been thrown off guard.
Rattled and bitter that they could not knock the Romney-Ryan ticket off-message, the Obama team and its allies in the blogosphere fixated on Clint Eastwood. Listen, I was there and it was darn weird. But at times it was funny and devastating in its dismissal of the president’s excuses. And in clips and sound bites the day after the live performance, the oddness is diminished and the punch lines seem more biting. In simple terms, the movie icon encapsulated the message of the convention: If someone is doing a bad job, you have to fire him.
Eastwood apparently so annoyed the egomaniacal president that the leader of the Free World felt compelled to hit back via Twitter (“this seat is taken”) at the movie star. Talk about losing your presidential aura. Empty chair = Obama is now a powerful association. Will the chair be in ads?
In this, as in so many other artificial kerfuffles, the media’s feigned outrage only serves Romney’s purpose. Now everyone is familiar with Eastwood’s cracks, and the conversation has taken the place of any criticism of the two nominees’ speeches.
Thursday night was a critical point in the campaign and arguably the point at which Romney (with help from Eastwood) broke free of the media filter. Recall last week that the entire press corps was focused on Todd Akin. Then it became an obsessive plea for more details about Romney’s policies, which, unlike the president, he has. Then there was the fixation on likability. That went down the drain when on Thursday night Romney appeared, if not likable, admirable. I now await the argument that personal qualities are irrelevant to the presidency.
The point at which Romney can define himself and thereby reassure voters has arrived. Now, with a money advantage, Romney can amplify his message and themes. The debates will be critical for Romney, but perhaps a little less so after a boffo convention.