This week’s Idiot of the Week award goes to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign team.

The Romney campaign team, pictured in Tampa

The Romney campaign team, pictured in Tampa

Every major party convention has its idiots and idiocy. I fully expect there to be some nuggets of hilarity during the Democratic National Convention. Assuming that there are, they’ll be included here next week. However, the RNC last week gave us far more “Sweet lord beelzebub, wtf” moments than any three-day media rehearsed convention should. While the convention is formally organised by the Republican Party and the Tampa host committee, Mitt Romney was going to pick up more than 90% of the delegates’ votes and, thus, his campaign team played a massive part of convention arrangements in the past few months. As the most recent major-party national convention where the result was in doubt before delegates arrived was at the RNC in 1976, these days national conventions are essentially free network advertising for the candidates. The job of any campaign team at a national convention is to display their candidate in a manner that makes that candidate likeable, worthy of votes and to have as many people talking about that candidate in as sympathetic a light as possible when the convention is over. Did the Romney campaign team manage those things? Er, no.

There are always the crazies who churn into party conventions. As much as we’d like to hope that politics attracts only worthy, hard-working, committed intelligent people, it frequently tends to also attract complete loonballs who retain the political views of their grandparents for no reason other than that’s how they do things where they come from, power-hungry nutters who’d step over their dying grandparents to gain another inch of influence and the dumbest of the dumb, who avoid being committed only because someone owes them a favour, probably in cash.I prefer to think of myself as a good-natured skeptic rather than a confirmed cynic but sometimes the cynic wins.

Delayed by a day due to Tropical Storm Isaac (despite Rush Limbaugh maintaining the week before that the tropical storm was a sneaky collaboration between Obama and the National Hurricane Center), the convention began with the usual speeches by the party faithful.

While the people on stage were mostly sticking to the “Romney/Ryan equals wunnerful” script, the crazies were having a field day in the crowd. Two attendees were witnessed on Tuesday throwing peanuts at a black camerawoman working for CNN, while shouting “This is how we feed the animals”. CNN decided not to air a report on the incident but it was caught by other journalists, who did.

Current TV anchor David Shuster was first in breaking the news. got an interview with Shuster later, where he made it clear that security guards evicted the peanut-throwers from the room when the CNN journalists complained. He added: “All of us were convinced that this was not representative of everybody at the convention and I think there were still some details to be flushed out.” Patricia Carroll was clear in her only interview on the incident that she believes that what happened to her at the RNC could just as easily happened at the Democratic National Convention or on the street corner. The problem for the Romney campaign team was that it didn’t happen at the DNC (at least not yet) or the street corner – it happened on their watch, at their convention and it made headlines. The GOP already comes with a recent reputation as the hideout of choice for racists. This didn’t help.

Zoraida Fonalledas, chair of Puerto Rico’s Committee on Permanent Organization, had her speech repeatedly interrupted by chants of “USA! USA!”, while nearby journalists and delegates were reduced to “a stunned silence”, according to Jack Hitt of Harper’s Magazine. The Republican National Committee contacted Hitt to stress that this was a response to other chants by Ron Paul supporters protesting against an RNC decision not to seat members of the Maine delegation rather than a racist chant. Meanwhile, Jamilia Bey, writing in the Washington Post, cast some doubt about the Ron Paul supporters explanation. Again, though, it’s not helping Romney’s cause. While a campaign team can’t control the universe, they should at least be able to act as a controlling influence in their own convention.

Again on Tuesday (hell of a day it was too), RNC Chairman Reince Preibus and House Speaker John Boehner forced through two binding resolutions on amending party rules between conventions and giving candidates the power to replace their own delegates without taking a proper vote on the proposals. An amendment to the delegate replacement proposal got enough signatures to get a floor vote. The amendment was ignored and a voice vote was called on the delegate replacement proposal. Objections were skipped over and the proposal was deemed passed anyway as a binding resolution by John Boehner. It doesn’t get much more crooked than that. Additionally, the result was put on the teleprompter before the vote was even called.  Don’t just take my word for it. There’s a video.

That’s essentially a rule passed (or deemed passed) just to keep Ron Paul’s supporters quiet and stop splinter groups (or, specifically, Ron Paul) from getting his name on the ballot. Regardless of your feelings on Ron Paul and his philosophies (personally, I think they’re nuts), passing a general rule to take care of a specific problem is bad politics and bad rule-making. Fiddling the vote so that a general rule is passed to take care of a specific problem is extremely short-sighted. They’ll regret it in the future but that’s their next problem.

Vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan put fact-checking centre-stage with his Wednesday night speech in Tampa. Assertions from both sides of the political hairline have been largely accepted by news networks over the past few months. After his speech, everything changed. Ryan, who’d already hit some bumps over subtracting 50 minutes from his personal best for marathon running, had a list of assertions in his speech debunked by Salon went head-on, running a story with a headline of “Paul Ryan’s brazen lies“, sayig that “his Republican National Convention speech was stunning for its dishonesty”. Wolf Blitzer (not usually acclaimed for taking notes) on CNN said that he “marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward“. The Washington Post called the speech “misleading“, making their own list of deliberately misleading inaccuracies in the speech. In the same newspaper, Jonathan Bernstein went even further, calling Ryan’s speech “a staggering, staggering lie” and suggested that he be called out for “telling flat-out lies to the American people”. The Huffington Post’s Miles Mogulescu wrote that “Ryan lies like a hooker telling her john that she loves him”, adding “given a media that tends to cover the horse race rather than the substance, there’s a good chance he could lie his way all the way to the vice presidency.” I highly recommend that you read the link. I’ve included it above but here it is again.

Completing the hurricane that hit the convention (as opposed to the tropical storm that didn’t) there was Clint Eastwood‘s twelve-minute performance on Thursday, featuring a poorly-worked routing involving the actor pretending to talk to an invisible Barack Obama sitting in a chair. Whether you believe that Clint Eastwood’s speech was a stunning avant-garde routine or the vague ramblings of an old guy ranting at an empty chair, his performance drew public attention firmly away from Romney. That might be a good thing if the candidate has challenged the press to follow him around and then gets photographed on an unfortunately-named boat in what might be a compromising position. It might be a good thing if the candidate has a history of extra-marital affairs. But when your candidate is Mitt Romney and is behind in the polls, when you’re trying to humanise him and make voters like him it’s never a good idea to allow the attention to be drawn off by anyone else, especially not an old guy verbally duelling with an empty chair. Especially when that verbal duel includes “I mean, what do you say to people? Do you just — you know — I know — people were wondering — you don’t — handle that okay”, which means that the chair is probably winning. I’ve spoken incredibly well in public and incredibly badly in public. I’ve done both often enough to be able to tell the difference. Clint Eastwood’s chair improv had all the success of the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

The tweets came hard and fast from the media, many of them sympathetic but virtually all of them damning.

Donald Trump, of course, loved it.

Then again, Donald Trump would have loved it even more if Clint had pulled down his trousers, defecated al over the chair and then asked it for its birth certificate. That’d be pretty avant-garde.

Within hours, there was an @InvisibleObama twitter account, which picked up 42,000 followers by the end of the next day. In the same period, Mitt Romney gained just 23,000 extra followers.

That got retweeted over 4,000 times. Clint Eastwood’s performance caused a tweet containing nothing but ellipses to be retweeted 4,000 times.

Clint was invited to speak by Mitt Romney himself, after the actor gave him a full endorsement in Idaho. Campaign advisers didn’t organise rehearsals or agree on a script. They handed him a few talking points and pointed him to the stage. Even by community theatre standards, they shouldn’t be in charge of a junior school production of Christmas carols. Eastwood was an odd choice in convention speakers as he’s pro-abortion-choice, pro-gay marriage and an old-fashioned fiscal conservative. Ideologically, he has little in common with Romney’s stated vision of the United States of the future.

The most frustrating thing for Republican Party mandarins is that if Clint had largely limited himself to the text of the closing three minutes (CNN video link) of his speech, his job would have been done. Even if he’d just left the chair-accompanied improv at the convention door, his appearance would have been worth it. No channelling of Bob Newhart’s empty chair routine, no faffing around on stage like an addled senior and no orgasmic gushes from comedy show writers sitting at home. Romney’s acceptance speech would have been the focus of the twitterati and writers for The Daily Show would have been limited to making comments about Paul Ryan’s poor grasp of reality. Republican Party political consultant Mike Ryan managed to summarise the problem with one short tweet:

Despite Eastwood’s well-simplified soundbite stating that “when somebody doesn’t do the job, you’ve got to let them go”, every media outlet in the United States was discussing his with-chair improv the next morning. Almost none of them were discussing Mitt Romney’s far longer acceptance speech. Cause of that failure: the Romney campaign’s lack of script and lack of rehearsal.

The Romney campaign spent $120,000 on buying #RomneyRyan2012 as a trending topic on Twitter as the convention reached its close. This ad spend promptly blew up in their faces when it was used as a hashtag to criticise the campaign, the candidates and the Republican Party in general. The critical comments were re-tweeted hundreds of times due to their prominent placement, paid for, of course by the Romney campaign fund. From their perspective, the money would have almost as well used if they’d taken it out the back door of the Tampa Bat Times Forum and set it on fire.

Tempting as it is to shovel the criticism solely at Matt Rhoades (Romney’s campaign manager) or Gail Gitchco (the campaign’s communications director), this was a failure of the entire campaign committee in failing to control the message leaving the convention, failing to control what was going on at the convention and, ultimately, making it less likely that their candidate will be elected. Nominating conventions are intended as boost platforms for a candidate. All the GOP convention managed to do was to get people talking about Clint Eastwood. That’s a total failure. That’s incompetence. That’s supreme idiocy. Even ignoring the continued insistence of the campaign team on running an election with a line as simple as Bill Clinton’s in 1992 (“it’s the economy, stupid” – and for Romney, it should be), the entire Romney campaign deserves to be this week’s Idiot of the Week. So it is.


Dishonourable mentions:

It’s easy to find yourself caught in the wilderness without maps or survival gear. Having it happen once is completely forgiveable. What isn’t forgiveable is having to call mountain rescuers on two successive nights when you should have learned your lesson the first time. A 73 (also reported as 75) year old man and his daughter had to be rescued by three teams of mountain rescuers in Cumbria (UK) last Friday when they got lost in the Lake District. They were using a guidebook to find their way around rather than a map. Proving that not everyone learns from their mistakes, the man’s other daughter joined them on Saturday and they managed to get lost again a few hours later, resulting in another night out for mountain rescue teams. The BBC report doesn’t give their names, which is a pity as they probably shouldn’t be allowed outside again. Here’s the incident report from Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue for the second call-out. The annoyance drips through the page, though, if anything, the person filling out the report is being diplomatic. The group was last reported as travelling east, along the Coast to Coast walk.

Bringing a new meaning to “finding yourself on holiday”, a tourist who had been reported as missing in southern Iceland last week joined her own search party before she realised that they were looking for her. Described as “Asian, about 160cm, in dark clothing and speaks English well”, the search began on Saturday afternoon when the bus driver thought that she had not returned to the tour bus. Before returning to the bus, she had changed her clothes. Search and rescue teams scoured the Eldgjá volcanic canyon until 3am on Sunday when it occurred to the woman that she might be the person that they were looking for. I’m not sure which is the real idiot here: the bus driver who miscounted the passengers or the woman who searched for herself for half a day. Rescue teams along Cumbria’s Coast to Coast walk are probably terrified that she will choose to holiday in northern England next year.

The Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management has spent AUS$684,000 on an egg-shaped pile of rocks that is designed to “blend into its environment” (in other words, fall apart and have trees covering it) in the Conondale National Park on Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Not content with that, the sculpture was placed at the end of a 56km trek that has been reported as “taking experienced bushwalkers four days to cover”.  Essentially, they’ve spent 700k on a sculpture that almost no-one will see, even before it fulfils its design of being hidden.

Randy Lee Tenley of Kalispell, Montana was killed last week while attempting to fake an after-sundown Bigfoot appearance on a Montana highway. Wearing a military “ghillie-suit” (a camouflage suit designed to replicate heavy foliage), he stood on the road so that drivers would call  in a Bigfoot sighting. Highway Patrol Trooper Jim Schneider said: “According to his companions, he was out there in the ghillie suit attempting to incite a sighting of Bigfoot, to make people think they had seen a Sasquatch.” Wearing the dark camouflage suit had the unfortunate consequence of making it difficult for drivers to see him. He was struck by two cars driven by teenagers. Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry told the New York Daily News that Mr Tenley “was just a normal guy with a sense of humor that didn’t serve him well.”

Parents of a baby born on an Emirates flight travelling from Dubai to Manila have decided to name their new child ‘EK’ in honour of Emirates’ airline designator code. I could add fifty words to this about the involvement of the airline’s staff in the baby’s birth but, as the baby was delivered by two Filipina nurses that happened to be on the flight, there wouldn’t be much point. They named their child after the airline because he was born on a plane. He’s going to spend most of his childhood being beaten up because of that. Well done, parents. Just as well that he wasn’t born on a Kingfisher Airlines flight as their code is ‘IT’.

Aiming for this year’s “World’s Worst Mother” award, South Carolina resident Gretchen Lynn Kinnear is currently facing child negligence charges for giving her four-year-old son shots of beer at her local bar. When police were called, she admitted to giving the child at least three shots of beer while at the bar. Her son told police officers that Ms Kinnear gave him “tea” that tasted funny and made him laugh a lot. He added that she gives him the same kind of “tea” at home. The mother acknowledged that when she has wine at home, she allows her son to have some. He’s currently in the care of people who babysit him on a regular basis.

Romantic as it might seem, mailing yourself to your girlfriend in a giant box is not a good idea. To celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday, Hu Seng (from Chongqing in southern China) thought it might be a lovely surprise to mail himself to her. When the courier company mixed up the addresses, a thirty minute quick delivery turned into a three-hour ordeal in a box with no air holes. Apparently Mr Hu didn’t want to spoil the surprise by calling out for attention. When the box was opened, he was found unconscious but alive.

A clothing store named ‘Hitler’ has been opened in an upmarket neighbourhood of Ahmedabad in India. Co-owner Rajesh Shah insists that the store was named after his business partner’s grandfather, who was nicknamed Hitler “because of his strict nature”. And, you know, for attention, which he’s now getting.

In Burlington, Vermont, restaurants are adding an 18% gratuity fee to bills if the diners are foreign. At least they haven’t called it a “freedom tax”. Watch those accents and be careful not to speak a foreign language, folks.