Publication / The Daily Beast
August 30, 2012
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Why ‘Mystery Speaker’ Clint Eastwood Loves the GOP

‘Dirty Harry’ star Clint Eastwood made a surprise (and wacky) appearance at tonight’s national convention. Miranda Green on how the movie star earned his Republican stripes.

Has he gone nuts? Clint Eastwood, Thursday night’s previously unannounced “mystery speaker” at the Republican National Convention, had a primetime audience in stitches as he quizzed an imaginary Barack Obama. Calling unemployment a “massive disgrace,” Eastwood said it was “time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.” He then lambasted Obama’s policies on Afghanistan, Gitmo, and more, addressing his complaints to an empty chair beside him. “I’m not going to shut up. It’s my turn,” he told the chair.

Despite the primetime spot at the hyperpartisan event, Eastwood’s own ideology isn’t as easy to pin down: he registered as a Republican in the ‘50s in support of Dwight Eisenhower, supported ex-California governor and Democrat Gray Davis, and carried out a largely nonpartisan agenda as a mayor himself in the 80s.

Here’s a brief tour of Eastwood’s political evolution.

Middle-Class Roots

Eastwood was born in San Francisco to a middle-class family. His mother was a factory worker and his father a steel and migrant worker. When he was drafted to the Korean War, young Clint got placed as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at a base in California. In 1952, soon after his time with the U.S. Army, he registered to vote for the Republican Party and Dwight Eisenhower, a  moderate conservative and previously a five-star general. About a decade later, Eastwood made his first major foray into acting in the television western series Rawhide, eventually making a name for himself as a master of the genre with early starring roles in a Fistful of Dollarsand Hang ‘Em High.

Straight-Talkin’ Mayor

In 1986, having established himself as an A-lister, Eastwood ran for mayor of his hometown Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., winning handily with 72 percent of the vote. During his one term, the movie star pushed through a nonpartisan agenda focused on fixing problems in the oceanside town and getting “things built.” (Sound familiar?) One of his biggest achievements was erecting a library annex that had needed to be completed for 25 years.

“I approached it from a business point of view,” Eastwood said of his time as mayor, “not a political one.”

His second excursion into politics was in 2001 when he was appointed to the California State Park and Recreation Commission by Gov. Davis, a Democrat, and then again by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

Crossing the Aisle

After throwing in his lot with Republicans during the Eisenhower era, Eastwood stuck to the Republican Party line, becoming a vocal backer of Richard Nixon during his 1968 and 1972 campaigns and much later endorsing John McCain for the 2008 presidential race.

But Eastwood sometimes crossed the aisle in his political support. In 2002, he endorsed Gov. Davis’s reelection bid, and again supported him during a 2003 recall that Davis ultimately lost. (Davis had appointed Eastwood to the parks commission before the endorsements.)

Eastwood has maintained that he is not a traditional conservative, at points labeling himself a moderate. He told Playboy in 1974 that he was a “liberal on civil rights, conservative on government spending.”

He also told the magazine his philosophy on government intrusion: “I think the attitude that Big Daddy’s going to take over has become a kind of a mental sickness. I don’t think government programs should be designed to encourage freeloading,” he said. “The government has to help people, to some degree, but it should be encouraging people to make something of themselves.”

His opinions today continue to mirror those of a fiscal conservative and social liberal. He told GQ in 2011 that he doesn’t “give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else,” following up with, “We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of.” In the article, Eastwood alluded that he thinks more in line with libertarians than any other political party.

He’s No Hawk

Although Eastwood has become well known for his war films, such as Letters from Iwo Jima, he has vocally denounced every war the U.S. has been involved with since the war in Korea. In fact, many of his films have largely been seen as critiques of war, illustrating the horrors and moral repercussions of combat—a stance that likely earned him some friends among liberals.

In his interview with Playboy, Eastwood confirmed his antiwar political outlook: “The U.S. should not be overly militaristic or play the role of global policeman,” he said.

In fact, he said, his feelings on war directly influenced his decision to vote for McCain. Eastwood told the British newspaper The Daily Mail in 2011 that he thought McCain would “understand the war in Iraq better than somebody who hadn’t [been through war],” but that he didn’t “agree with him on a lot of stuff.”

Why Not Obama

Eastwood has never been shy about voicing his lack of faith in President Obama because of what he sees as the president’s fear to make bold moves that will fix the economy. Despite having wished Obama well after he won the election, Eastwood says he is disappointed with what he has achieved.

“I loved the fact that Obama is multiracial. I thought that was terrific, as my wife is the same racial makeup. But I felt he was a greenhorn, and it turned out he didn’t have experience in decision making,” he told The Daily Mail.

His opinions haven’t changed much since 2010, when told Katie Couric at CBS that he doesn’t think Obama is “governing.”

“I don’t think he’s surrounded himself with the people he could have surrounded himself with.”

As for his thoughts on presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, Eastwood was spotted earlier this month at a lavish fundraiser for the candidate—and tonight’s appearance at the RNC is sure to put to rest any speculation of which candidate he is voting for.