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Clint Eastwood on Politics: It’s Complicated

The living legend and 'Cry Macho' director blazed singular, right-leaning trail

Celebrity campaigns are the new normal, from Caitlyn Jenner’s gubernatorial run to Dwayne Johnson’s flirtation with the White House.

Does anyone doubt Matthew McConaughey would be a formidable thorn in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s side?

Back in 1986, superstar Clint Eastwood had more modest ambitions. The actor, still a draw thanks to films like “Pale Rider” and “Sudden Impact,” entered the race for the mayor of Carmel, Calif. at the very last minute.

Why?

He didn’t like the town’s antiquated rules, including nettlesome zoning laws and a ban on ice cream sales. So he ran for the position… and won.

Almanac: Mayor Clint Eastwood

His one-term leadership led to ice cream’s return to the seaside town, all one square mile of it, along with other modest improvements. He didn’t overturn the town’s high heel restrictions, apparently, but his celebrity-fueled tenure went over well beyond complaints about the traffic uptick.

It’s part of the superstar’s complicated political story, one that overlapped with this week’s recall election in his home state.

Last month, gubernatorial hopeful Larry Elder shared Eastwood’s endorsement to unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom. The talk show host wouldn’t share anything more on the subject, likely meaning it’s all Eastwood himself wanted to divulge.

Either way, it put the superstar back on the conservative map after a curious turn during the Trump years.

‘Dirty’ … or Just Misunderstood?

Eastwood’s early work, particularly the “Dirty Harry” series, made him a target for politically-charged questions. He rarely shies away from the subject. He also shrewdly uses his star status to back various causes.

He opened up during a 1974 Playboy interview about his political mindset. The Man with No Name eschewed labels back then, saying his views couldn’t be easily pinned down.

“I’m liberal on civil rights, conservative on government spending,” he told the magazine, noting his anger at President Richard Nixon for taping conversations in the Oval Office.

RELATED: Where Will Hollywood Find the Next Clint Eastwood?

The star took an early stand against censorship during the Q&A, calling it “dangerous.” He noted how it might impact the culture if reporters had their work silenced in any capacity. We saw just that take place last year when Big Tech and corporate media colluded to erase the Hunter Biden laptop story.

Eastwood also stood up for creative expression in the chat.

“As far as films are concerned, I think adult human beings ought to be able to see what they want to. I’m too much of an individual to think otherwise.”

Many film pundits slammed his “Dirty Harry” series as fascism on parade. It’s clear from the Playboy chat that Eastwood saw it as a compelling saga first and foremost. His storytelling instincts came first then, and now.

Eastwood remained hard to pin down, politically speaking, over the years. He eventually embraced the “Libertarian” label but didn’t let that influence his moves. He even flirted with a Republican presidential ticket, except he didn’t realize it at the time.

‘Go Ahead … Make My Legislation’

George H.W. Bush’s campaign team discussed asking Eastwood to be his running mate in 1988. The conversation didn’t amount to anything serious, but the campaign saw Eastwood as one way to close the gap between Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis, then leading in the polls.

“When we were way behind. Honestly, [Eastwood] was suggested in not an altogether unserious – Well, he was a mayor. He was a Republican mayor,”  former Bush campaign chairman and Secretary of State James Baker said.

The actor later praised the idea, perhaps in jest, adding his two years as Carmel’s mayor had scratched his political itch, thanks.

Yet Eastwood also danced with the Democrats on a few occasions, including throwing support behind Sen. Dianne Feinstein during the 1990s and his curious 2020 presidential pledge.

Anti-War Star Lets His Film Do the Talking

Many Hollywood actors railed against both President George W. Bush and the Iraq War in the 2000s. The industry cranked out movie after movie excoriating Bush’s foreign policy moves.

They all flopped, but Eastwood the auteur didn’t join the fray.

In fact, Eastwood kept a low profile on the subject, letting his peers do the talking for his community. When he finally addressed the Iraq War on the big screen, it came via “American Sniper.” The 2014 sensation recalled the life of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper who struggled after returning to the home front. 

Eastwood opened up about the film, and much more, during the accompanying press push. He expressed doubt about invading both Iraq and Afghanistan in the process.

“I was against going into the war in Iraq since I figured we would probably trip over ourselves in some way.”

CRY MACHO – Official Trailer

Perhaps his boldest political statement came in 2012. Eastwood, then in his early 80s, took the stage at the Republican National Convention to support Mitt Romney’s campaign against President Barack Obama.

What happened next sparked parodies, endless columns and unfettered rage in the film community. Eastwood, his show biz patina weakened with age, referred to the president as an empty chair in a clever but meandering performance.

Famed movie critic Roger Ebert, who grew more openly progressive later in life, called the appearance “pathetic.” Eastwood himself dubbed the speech “silly” and described how it happened in the first place.

Watch Clint Eastwood Speak at Republican National Convention

“And so I’m listening to an old Neil Diamond thing and he’s going, ‘And no one heard at all / Not even the chair.’ And I’m thinking, That’s Obama. He doesn’t go to work. He doesn’t go down to Congress and make a deal. What the hell’s he doing sitting in the White House? If I were in that job, I’d get down there and make a deal. Sure, Congress are lazy bastards, but so what? You’re the top guy.”

The legendary actor otherwise stayed mum during President Barack Obama’s two terms. The silent chair, for better and worse, said enough.

The superstar never let his political views interrupt his day job. He worked tirelessly in the 2000s and beyond, scoring some of his greatest film victories along the way.

Consider:

  • Mystic River” (2003) – Best Actor (Sean Penn), Best Supporting Actor (Tim Robbins)
  • Million Dollar Baby” (2004) – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Hilary Swank), Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman)
  • Gran Torino” (2008) – $148 million U.S. box office
  • Sully” (2016) – $125 million U.S. box office
  • The Mule” (2018) – $103 million U.S. box office

Some recent Eastwood efforts (“Jersey Boys,” The 15:17 to Paris”) proved forgettable, at best. Still, he always circles back to the country’s political climate, even if he fails to do so in a way that matched his hard-charging peers.

He greeted the Trump phenomena with more curiosity than anything else. He applauded the real estate mogul’s ability to call out the P.C. nature of the modern world.

“Because secretly everybody’s getting tired of political correctness, kissing up. That’s the kiss-a – generation we’re in right now. We’re really in a p—- generation,” Eastwood said in the article. “Everybody’s walking on eggshells. We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist.”

He neglected to officially endorse the brash leader, though, during the 2016 campaign.

Four years later, Eastwood opted against supporting Trump’s re-election. Instead, he through his considerable weight behind Michael Bloomberg, a candidate who made a sizable splash after entering the race.

“The best thing we could do is just get Mike Bloomberg in there,” he said.

Why?

Trump’s lack of a “genteel” manner irked him, including his bullying Tweets and childish nicknames. Eastwood’s endorsement had little impact. Bloomberg’s political fortunes faded fast, despite spending millions in the process.

A year later, Eastwood quietly turned his attention back to his home state. He saw something special in Elder, a smart, fast-talking radio giant gunning for California’s biggest job.

No, Eastwood Isn’t Like Other Movie Stars

Celebrity endorsements are a dime a dozen. So are star opinions on the border, the minimum wage and other hot button issues.

With Eastwood it’s different. He may not change many hearts and minds, but over the years he’s proven that when he opens his mouth, be it on movies or the political landscape, people tend to listen.

He’s a Hollywood icon, no questions asked. Plus, while most pundits and stars prove predictable in their political positions, we’re often unsure where Eastwood will throw his support next.

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