By Susan Davis, USA TODAY
Hollywood heavyweight Clint Eastwood made a scene-stealing appearance on the GOP convention stage before a welcoming audience Thursday night ahead of Mitt Romney's acceptance speech for his party's presidential nomination.
"I think it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem," said Eastwood, 82, who already endorsed Romney this month at a campaign fundraiser in Idaho. "When someone does not do the job, you have got to let them go."
In an unusual speech for what is typically a highly scripted affair, Eastwood talked to an empty chair, which he addressed as if President Obama was sitting on the stage.
At one point Eastwood suggested the imaginary president had told him to say derogatory things to the nominee. "What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. I can't tell him to do that to himself," he said.
He criticized Vice President Biden as "kind of a grin with a body behind it" and sarcastically described him as "the intellect of the Democratic party."
Following his remarks, the Romney campaign issued a statement defending the movie star. "Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn't work. His ad libbing was a break from all the political speeches, and the crowd enjoyed it."
Reactions to Eastwood's speech overwhelmed social media. "Clint Eastwood became (a) huge star as a man of few words," tweeted NBC News veteran Tom Brokaw, an Eastwood friend. "As a surprise guest on the Tampa stage he had too many words."
Former GOP representative Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC's Morning Joe said Romney's big night was "sidetracked" by Eastwood. By 11 p.m. ET, a parody Twitter account @InvisibleObama had amassed more than 20,000 followers.
"@InvisibleObama was created by a user inspired by the uniqueness of that moment and tapped into the zeitgeist in real time," said Twitter spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz. "It's incredibly rare to see an account created and reach over 20,000 followers in such a short time. It speaks to how powerful the shared experience around a live event is on Twitter."
While the remarks appeared awkward on television because it was unclear whom Eastwood was addressing, he was warmly welcomed in the hall by the delegates. He closed out his remarks by saying, "Go ahead ..." to which the hall chanted by, "Make my day!" in reference to his famous one-liner from the film Dirty Harry.
Eastwood has been an active Republican his entire adult life, although he has at times supported Democratic candidates and maintains liberal social views and supports abortion rights and gay marriage. During the 1980s, Eastwood was elected mayor of Carmel, Calif.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a friend of Eastwood's who has joined him at Republican fundraisers, spoke of Eastwood's popularity in conservative circles.
"Nobody messes with Clint Eastwood," Boehner said before Eastwood's speech. "He could make another half dozen movies before President Obama could get the unemployment rate below 8%. I'm glad he has Mitt's back."
The Academy Award winner drew headlines earlier this year when he was the voice of a high-profile Super Bowl ad for Chrysler declaring it was "halftime in America," which was perceived as being favorable to President Obama and the auto bailout his administration helped orchestrate. Eastwood pushed back and said he was not "politically affiliated" with the president.
Gannett News Service/USA Today