Amateur Hour

The word is beginning to trickle out now about how the whole Eastwood think went down, thanks, of course, to Romney and Convention staffers playing some CYA. Barbaro and Peterson of the New York Times have the story:

A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood’s appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney’s top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens. This person said that there had been no rehearsal, to the surprise of the rest of the campaign team.

But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Mr. Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. Mr. Eastwood, however, delivered those points in a theatrical, and at times crass, way that caught Romney aides off guard, this person said. Mr. Eastwood even ignored warnings that he had exceeded his time….

So Clint just blind-sided them, right? They had no warning, right? Well, not exactly:

Aides said Mr. Eastwood does not like teleprompters and was trusted to deliver an on-message endorsement.

“He made a last-minute decision to ad-lib, and I don’t think people knew,” said Ari Fleischer, a former adviser to George W. Bush, who said he had spoken with people involved in planning the convention. He suggested that second-guessing of the Romney campaign’s convention presentation was “just the nature of the beast.”

And here’s my favorite part:

Initially, there were no plans for Mr. Eastwood to take a chair onstage as a prop. But at the last minute, the actor asked the production staff backstage if he could use one, but did not explain why. “The prop person probably thought he was going to sit in it,” a senior aide said.

“No plans” for a prop, eh? No plans at all. No script. No teleprompters. No researsals. Just some talking points and a bunch of assumptions. So actually, none of the wizards really knew what this 82-year-old eccentric without much political experience beyond the mean streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea was going to do when the network cameras came on and millions of people tuned in to watch Mitt Romney deliver his acceptance speech.

I’ve worked in the script and speech operation in six Democratic National Conventions, and I can tell you that hardly anyone “likes” teleprompters. Plenty of people–Senators, former Cabinet Members, people who have made thousands of political speeches–don’t normally use fixed texts. Very few Convention speakers want to rehearse, either. But they all do, from a fixed text, on a teleprompter, and under constant instructions that if they ever want to eat lunch at The Palm again, there had better not be any surprises.

The only Convention Speaker I can recall who successfully refused the use of a teleprompter was Jimmy Carter, a former President of the United States. And even he used a prepared text.

Now I don’t know that the Eastwood incident will have any enduring effect on perceptions of the Convention, much less the elections. But it’s one of many examples of how just when you are convinced that Mitt Romney runs the tightest ship in the business, run by ruthless cyborgs who insist on reducing the margin of error to nothing, something like this always seems to happen. It certainly helps convince me that no Romney lead in the polls is entirely safe. And it ought to make at least a few people nervous about how this Genius Business Leader’s hand-picked underlings might function if they are in charge of the country next January.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.