At the Republican National Convention: All hail Invisibama!

Scott Feschuk on Mitt, Clint and That Chair

Click here for my recap of Tuesday’s session, or here for Wednesday’s session.

7:03 p.m. ET On CNN, Anderson Cooper is saying that Republican operatives have promised a “carefully crafted buildup” to Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. This remark will become worth remembering in a few hours, right around the time Clint Eastwood begins interrogating a piece of furniture.

7:13 C-SPAN reporters break some big news: the 100,000 balloons that will descend on Mitt Romney and the convention floor at the end of his speech tonight were inflated, according to an interview with a guy from the balloon company, over a period of just five hours. STOP THE PRESSES OR WHATEVER MAKES WORDS APPEAR ON THE INTERNET. The reporter wants more from his source: “How,” he asks, “do you make sure [the balloons] come down?” Balloon Guy scoffs. Balloon Guy says: “The drop will be very, very nice.” Balloon Guy says no balloons will get stuck on his watch, ho ho. This remark will become worth remembering in a few hours, right around the time the balloons get stuck on his watch.

7:36 Connie Mack, senate candidate in Florida, walks to the podium and declares, “Once again, it’s morning in America!” As we all know, that’s an echo of a campaign slogan from the time of Ronald Reagan. But, psst, Connie Mack – cm’over here. Bring it in close, okay? Dude, there’s one small thing about “Morning in America” that you should probably have checked up on. Reagan used it as his slogan in 1984 – after he’d already been president for a term and after a recovery had taken hold. If it were morning in America now, few would even consider voting for Mitt Romney. RUN BACK OUT THERE AND SAY IT’S, AT BEST, GLOAMING IN AMERICA!

7:49 Newt and Callista Gingrich appear on stage together to pay tribute to Ronald Reagan because apparently it’s been four minutes since someone did that. It’s an unusual moment: first, because Newt is forced to read from a script, and you can see in the strain on his face how hard it is for him to keep from dropping some polysyllabic Newt Truths on us; and second, because it turns out Callista Gingrich speaks with the exact same amount of verve and passion as the computer voice on Star Trek.

Newt: “This is the most critical election of our lifetimes! We must commit ourselves to honouring the spirit of Ronald Reagan!”

Callista: “The Reagan legacy is functioning within established parameters.”

8:01 Craig Romney, son of Mitt Romney, delivers a brief address and in so doing proves once and for all that the apple didn’t fall far from the boring.

8:05 Jeb Bush: “This election is about the future of this nation.” Unlike most elections, which are about sandwiches and scoring chicks.

8:32 Welcome to the part of the evening in which the people who know Mitt Romney tell us about Mitt Romney. There are a number of compelling moments. Romney comes off as a loyal friend, a devoted family man, a savvy business executive and – through the stories of a dying teenager and a sick baby – a deeply decent, giving and thoughtful man in moments of human crisis. Says one friend of Mitt: “When it comes to helping your neighbour, we can talk about it – or we can live it. The Romneys live it, every single day.” Mitt Romney may be the first candidate who wants to become president so he can help fewer people.

8:50 Bob White, chairman of the Romney-Ryan campaign: “For 30 years, I have been at Mitt Romney’s side when he did extraordinary things. As Mitt says, I’m his wingman.” I’m pretty sure neither of those guys knows what that word is generally accepted to mean.

9:16 Kerry Healey, who worked with Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, rhymes off a number of impressive traits about Mitt and tells this little story: “Mitt was always a hands-on leader. When one of Boston’s tunnels collapsed, tragically killing a passenger in her car, Mitt didn’t blame others. He dove in and fixed the problem.” Wait: Mitt Romney raised the dead? That really feels like it should be a bigger part of his campaign. <Fade in.> “Hi, I’m Mitt Romney. Can Obama do THIS? [reanimates Elvis Presley].”

9:21 We move on to the 17th advocate for Mitt and the whole production begins to sound like that WKRP episode in which everyone is cajoled to describe Herb as “a hard worker, loyal husband and all-around fine person.” Delegates are starting to lose interest. Then, out of nowhere, a person who grew up with Mitt Romney, or worked with him, or was returned to this plane of existence from the spirit world by his hand, stares into the camera and firmly declares: “Mitt Romney will never apologize for America!” Yeah, because that happens a lot – because if there’s one thing there’s just too much of, it’s U.S. politicians and presidents going around and apologizing for America. SORRY. SORRY, WORLD. OUR BAD.

9:34 A group of former Olympians takes the stage to demonstrate their support for the Republican nominee. Hundreds of miles to the north, in a darkened room in Washington, a grim-faced Barack Obama takes note of the fact that Mitt Romney has won the allegiance of the 2007 world champion in skeleton. Obama’s heart sinks. He knows now the election is lost.

9:37 The Olympians make their case. “America is faltering. We need strong leadership, we need new leadership and we need it now.” – Some skeet shooter.

9:42 Mike Eruzione, captain of America’s Miracle on Ice hockey team, delivers a brief speech in which it becomes apparent that he a) supports Mitt Romney for president, and b) thinks “athletes” is pronounced with three syllables. Eruzione continues: “Mitt is a brilliant leader who is committed to the highest ideals and he is a wonderful and caring family man.” That’s pretty convincing – but the smart voter won’t make a final decision until there’s been some input from beach volleyballers and biathletes.

9:55 Welcome to the Obligatory Montage of Romney Home Videos, the part of the evening when millions of Americans realize that neither they nor their children have a hope of becoming president because they lack the required hours of endearing home-movie snippets that are Revealing of Character.

For instance, one of the things we’ve been told repeatedly this week is that Mitt Romney is frugal. It’s an appealing trait for a politician in a time of high deficits. But it turns out that what everybody’s actually been trying to say is: Mitt Romney is cheap as hell. Dude doesn’t even replace his stovetop light bulb with one of the correct size or wattage – he just jams in there some random oversized bulb he’d already purchased.

A former work colleague of Romney declares: “If he can save 50 cents on paperclips, he’d drive a mile to do it.” I ask you: Is this what America really wants in a president? Listen, soldier, I know you need a pair of cutters to snip that wire and defuse this bomb that is about to obliterate this vibrant downtown area – but I tell you what, here, let’s save the American people the eight bucks and I’ll just gnaw at it with my teeth.

10:02 Suddenly, Clint Eastwood is at the microphone. There is wild applause. Eastwood squints and smiles: “Save a little for Mitt.” Delegates laugh. OH HOW THEY LAUGH. They begin to mentally praise the genius political operative who secured Eastwood’s participation because this is exactly the kind of star power the Romney campaign needs in order to break through and– um, hang on, what’s Clint doing? Is he talking to a chair? He’s not talking to a chair? Oh, that’s a relief. For a moment there I thought he was– ah, so he’s talking to Invisible Barack Obama, who is apparently sitting in the chair? I don’t think that’s better.

[Three minutes of increasingly awkward “laughter” later…]

Well, sure, it’s a little unusual, I suppose. It’s a little unusual that it’s 10 o’clock on the final night of the Republican National Convention and the party’s presidential nominee is poised to deliver the biggest speech of his life and meanwhile a world-famous Hollywood celebrity is having a conversation with an invisible president. And sure, maybe it wouldn’t have hurt if Clint had worked from a script, or a few bullet points, or an idea that had progressed even a tiny bit beyond: Chair.

But it’s not like Eastwood is taking it too far or– um, hang on, did he just suggest that Invisibama had told him to go f— himself. He did? Oh, my. And did he actually just say: “Do you just… you know… I know… people were wondering… you don’t… handle that okay.” He did?

Oh, well, it’ll still be great to have Clint formally endorse Mitt and– um, what’s that? He’s not endorsing Mitt at all? In fact, to the contrary, he’s saying that all politicians are the same and “they’re just going to come around every few years and beg for votes?” Interesting. That’s interesting. [Gouges out own eyes to make the horror stop.]

(America can be so adorable sometimes. They regard their celebrities with such reverence that the Romney campaign – which was so obsessive about approving every word uttered by every speaker, and choreographing every image and moment – just went ahead and let an 82-year-old man walk out onto the stage in prime time with an empty chair, no script and some grade-A bed head. But speaking for myself, I realize I’ve got bigger problems to worry about: If invisible Obama is in Tampa, who’s watching my kids?)

10:17 Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, arrives to introduce Mitt Romney. And you have to hand it to Rubio because he does it in a really interesting way. You know how usually the person who’s introducing the other person will talk about the person they’re introducing? Marco Rubio puts a bit of a fresh spin on that by instead speaking about the person who’s doing the introducing, ie. Marco Rubio. FYI, according to Marco Rubio, this Marco Rubio character is one hell of a guy. Also, by the way, Mitt Romney everyone!

10:36 Mitt Romney enters and walks through the hall, shaking hands. By the time he reaches the stage, Clint Eastwood has wandered out into the parking lot and is exchanging life stories with a Hyundai.

Romney’s speech may be remembered for a number of different elements. It may be remembered for the candidate’s touching remembrance of his father’s love for his mother. It may be remembered for its largely negative tone, a jarring contrast after two hours of hearing about Mitt the Eternal Optimist. It may be remembered for dubious feel-good lines like, “I have a plan to create 12 million jobs!” (Hint: It involves starting up three million boy bands.)

Many will remember it for a single line. It was a line that was crafted to help position Romney as the practical problem solver to Barack Obama’s hopey-changey dreamer. But it became something very different because of how delegates reacted to it.

Here’s how the line appeared in the text: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

Here’s how it actually sounded: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans [huge gales of laughter from Republican delegates, because massive, life-sustaining bodies of water are for pussies] and heal the planet [BWAHAHAHA. Suck it, science!].”

From there, the end of Romney’s speech pretty much wrote itself: “By way of closing, I say to my fellow Americans tonight: planets and oceans can be replaced. What can’t be replaced is the love we feel for our future island nation. If we’ve learned anything from the rigorous science of Waterworld, it’s that at least several of us will survive and adapt, possibly with rudimentary gills of some kind and then there’ll be no stopping us. May God bless the undersea kingdom of the United States of America!”

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