Clint Eastwood grills invisible Obama, says 'We got to let him go'

Actor and director Clint Eastwood tried a risky and sometimes awkward 10-minute routine Thursday before the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., that involved several minutes of him pretending to ask questions to a non-present President Obama, though he won big applause for lines saying it's time for him to leave office.

"When somebody does not do the job, we got to let him go," he said near the end of his remarks, to rowdy applause.

"We own this country," he added. "Politicians are employees of ours. They're just going to come around and beg for votes every few years, it's the same old deal."

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Before grilling an invisible Obama in an empty chair, Eastwood said he was initially fine with Obama's election, but that the state of the economy made him sour on the president. 

"I just thought, this is great," Eastwood said of Obama's election. "Everybody was crying, Oprah was crying. I was even crying.

"I haven't cried so hard since I found out there's 23 million unemployed people in this country. Now that is something to cry for."

Then began the questioning of empty-seat Obama. Eastwood started by asking how Obama accounts for the many promises he made but has not delivered on, such as his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Eastwood then pretended that Obama told him to shut up. "What do you mean, shut up?" he said to laughter.

Eastwood then questioned him about how much longer U.S. troops would be in Afghanistan. "You thought war in Afghanistan was OK, you thought that was something worth doing. We didn't check with the Russians to see how they did for 10 years," he said to more applause.

Eastwood also noted that Obama has given a target date for getting out, but criticized him for it.

"Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question," Eastwood said. "He said, why giving a date out now? Why don't you just bring them home tomorrow morning?"

Seconds later, he pretended that Obama called on Mitt Romney to perform a crude act.

"I can't tell him to do that. He can't do that to himself," Eastwood said to shocked laughter in the convention hall.

He then moved immediately to a few digs at Vice President Biden.

"You're getting as bad as Biden," he said to the chair. "Biden is the intellect of the Democratic Party: kind of a grin with a body behind it."

Before shifting to a more serious tone near the end of his speech, Eastwood pretended Obama wanted Eastwood to perform the impossible, crude act.

"I can't do that to myself, either," he said.

Eastwood's remarks were met with immediate criticism from the Obama camp, including from David Axelrod, who tweeted, "That screaming you hear backstage is poor Clint, when they told him Mitt wants U.S. to stay in Afghanistan INDEFINITELY."

Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, tweeted simply, "Wow."

The Romney campaign was quick to defend the speech. 

"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.

"He rightly pointed out that 23 million Americans out of work or underemployed is a national disgrace and it's time for a change," a Romney campaign aide said.

Eastwood started slowly by assuring the audience that he is not the only conservative in Hollywood.

"It's just that conservative people by nature of the word itself, play it a little more close to the vest," he said. "They don't go around hot-dogging' it, but they're there."

Eastwood spoke without a teleprompter, ad-libbing his remarks. A blinking red light was flashing for a bit, as if a Hollywood cue for him to wrap up. Still, many delegates appeared to be offering as much help as they could with applause and cheers.

Eastwood ended by saying he doesn't say, "Go ahead, make my day" anymore, but he relented and started his famous "Dirty Harry" line for the crowd, saying "Go ahead," and allowing the audience to yell, "make my day." Ann Romney was seen mouthing the words with the crowd.

As Eastwood finished, the audience repeated his line to Obama: "Let him go."

— Justin Sink, Russell Berman, Peter Schroeder, Niall Stanage and Emily Goodin contributed to this report.

— Updated at 10:51 p.m.