TAMPA, Fla. — The 2012 Republican National Convention began with a day of canceled events, and ended with a bizarre unscripted moment in which Clint Eastwood lectured an empty chair. And there were few true bright spots in between.
The party’s rising star, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, failed to impress with his much-hyped keynote address. The vaunted vice presidential nominee? His speech took a pounding from fact-checkers, potentially knocking the Romney campaign off kilter just as it enters the home stretch.
And then there’s the racially charged flying legumes.
There was much for Republicans to celebrate in Tampa: the fresh faces on stage who energized the room and revealed a deep Republican bench of young talent, the emergence of Ann Romney as a beloved national figure and a final night that went a long way toward humanizing Mitt Romney with compelling personal stories.
But every day also seemed to bring another round of bad news, leaving the convention limping to the end. A rundown of what went wrong:
The weather system known as Isaac (which strengthened from a tropical storm to a hurricane and back over the course of the convention) cast dark clouds over Tampa in the days leading up to the official start of the convention Monday. Though the storm took a turn away from the convention site, organizers had to scramble and cancel a day, leading to public bickering over who was to blame for placing the convention and its thousands of attendees in the path of a major storm.
• The Ron Paul Revolution
For months, Ron Paul supporters exploited obscure primary and caucus rules long after Romney’s victory was apparent to amass a decent minority of delegates, many of them bound to Romney, for the convention. But when RNC officials passed new rules trying to prevent Paul backers from poaching more delegates in 2016, the Paul crowd erupted in anger.
On the first day of the convention, tensions boiled over as they staged a rowdy protest during the official roll call vote. On the second night, they sat for a video tribute to Paul, then walked out en masse, chanting anti-RNC slogans.
“We got railroaded by a freight train of hypocrisy,” one Paul delegate told TPM. “We’re trying to raise the integrity of the Republican Party, and if they won’t do it from the top down, we’ll do it from the bottom up.”
• The Peanuts
It was clearly the goal of Tampa’s organizers to showcase the GOP’s diversity. But on the same night as Utah congressional candidate Mia Love knocked ‘em dead from the podium, the RNC had to deal with an ugly racial incident involving two of its own. Patricia Carroll, a black CNN camerawoman, was the victim of a racist attack in which two members of the crowd threw peanuts at her and said, “This is how we feed the animals.”
The RNC immediately condemned the behavior and threw the two offending attendees out of the convention. But the ugly story lingered in the background of the remaining convention coverage.
Paul Ryan’s Factually Challenged Speech
Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan fired up the crowd with a tough speech attacking Obama’s economic record Wednesday night. But numerous factual inaccuracies in his address were so glaring that they quickly became a major story of their own.
In the most-cited example, Ryan excoriated Obama over a GM plant that closed in his Janesville, Wis., district, which he trumpeted as a sign of the president’s economic failures. But the plant closed in 2008 under President Bush, mostly due to market trends that long predated Obama. As Obama’s auto czar Steve Rattner noted, Ryan’s insistence that Obama should have saved the individual assembly line also ran directly counter to his frequent refrain that the government shouldn’t be in the business of “picking winners and losers.”
• Constant Distractions, On Stage And Off
Mike Huckabee marred the RNC’s outreach to women when he made a personal joke about DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on stage, which Democrats saw as sexist. Ann Romney, despite impressing just about everyone with her poised and warm address Tuesday, marred the Romney campaign’s outreach push to Hispanics when she said of Puerto Ricans, “you people know how to party.” Some Hispanic Republicans in the room were not happy.
• Clint Eastwood Debates An Empty Chair
The Romney campaign couldn’t have been more excited when word leaked that Clint Eastwood, a former Republican mayor in California, would make a surprise primetime appearance for the final night of the convention.
What they hoped for was a rugged boost of charisma from arguably the most beloved actor in Hollywood. What they got was a rambling, mumbled, disjointed piece of performance art in which Eastwood interviewed an empty chair that was apparently a stand-in for Obama.
Romney aides in attendance reportedly winced as Eastwood’s ad-libbed speech continued on for 12 minutes, never building toward any coherent theme.
The Republican delegates loved it, at least. And so did the Internet, where people began taking photos of themselves arguing with chairs in a meme dubbed “Eastwooding.”