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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Physical impressions of the Republican field

The Republican debate last night generated the usual amount of publicity. All of the candidates are obviously intelligent, and well-rehearsed, and several had interesting ideas when it came to taxes, trade pacts, and so on. But voters are emotional creatures, and tend to vote for more visceral reasons. Do they like the way a candidate looks, does he seem likable, and does his body language inspire confidence?

So, based on such superficial criteria, here are some takeaways from last night's debate:

John Kasich's campaign is on its last legs, so his advisers told him to come out swinging. He was the only one in the field who didn't even try to answer the moderator's first question about what their biggest weaknesses were. He said, "Good question, but I want to tell you…" blah blah blah.

Kasich was trying too hard, and it showed. With his slightly unkempt look, hunched posture, and overly emphatic hand gestures, he evoked the Christopher Lloyd character in Back to the Future:

The overall effect was that of desperation, which never inspires confidence.

Mike Huckabee comes across as sincere, but he is neither physically prepossessing nor inspirational. When he objected to Chris Christie's plan to means check Social Security recipients, he used the analogy of someone who says he's going to have one more Krispy Kreme donut before he goes on a diet.

It was hard not to see this as a somewhat veiled jab at Christie's weight. But since Huckabee is the second fattest candidate, it was a barb that should have been delivered by someone else.

I've written about Bush's resemblance to Ned Beatty before:

This probably has something to do with why Jeb never really caught on. Of course, Jeb's Mexicans-come-first priorities never really captured the hearts of the Republican base either.

Marco Rubio has a lot of crowd-pleasing lines ("I'm against anything that's bad for my mother," in reference to Medicare). He exudes earnestness, but comes across like the President of the Student Council at your high school.

He's 44, but looks 32, and if he's listed at 5' 10" by his campaign, you just know he's got to be shorter. (If you're going to look like a kid, at least be taller than a kid.) Rubio is tougher than he looks; he wasn't fazed in the least by the personal attacks on him. But he'd be better off looking as tough as he actually is.

I've written before that Donald Trump reminds me of Goldfinger, and that the resemblance is more than physical:

Like Goldfinger, Trump comes across confident, which inspires confidence. And also like Goldfinger, he is unapologetic about who and what he is, which inspires even more confidence. This, as well as his stance on immigration, has something to do with Trump's high poll numbers.

Dr. Ben Carson seems like a nice guy; he has a gentlemanly demeanor. And he must be smart if he's a neurosurgeon. But his slow, sleepy way of talking always make him seem as if he just smoked a doobie. And it's hard to imagine him out negotiating Vladimir Putin.

Carson recently admitted that when he was 14 he tried to stab someone in the stomach with a knife. (An early attempt at surgery?) He needs to bring a little of that fire back. America needs a President who's ready to stick a shiv in Putin, not heal him afterward.

Despite this, though, Carson is doing surprisingly well in the polls.

Carly Fiorina, whom I'm convinced is a sociopath, said she was Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare. That may or may not be true:

Fiorina's problem is that she also comes across like Dorothy's worst nightmare:

Trump needn't have insulted her looks; all that was required was a bucket of water.

Ted Cruz had the best moment of the debate, when he lambasted the CNBC announcer for his nasty questions: "Let me say something at the outset: The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media. This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions: 'Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don't you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?' How about talking about the substantive issues?"

What was most impressive about this little speech was that it couldn't have been fed to Cruz beforehand -- unlike the other candidates' better lines. Cruz managed to remember all those questions in the heat of the debate, modified them slightly, and then recited them back -- without rehearsal. That took considerable wattage.

Cruz's problem from an image standpoint, however, is that he always looks so pleased with himself:

He also looks a little duplicitous. The other Republicans seem to feel he's opportunistic; and he does give off those vibes.

Many have pointed out that Chris Christie is too fat. But it's a little surprising that no one has pointed out that Christie has spent an inordinate amount of time leaning on the podium during all three debates:

Virtually every time the camera panned to him, Christie would have a full forearm on the lectern, and seemed to be resting some of his bulk on it.

In a way, it makes him appear relaxed and informal. But in his case, it also seems to be a crutch. The Presidency is not a physical fitness test, but it also shouldn't be a weight loss camp. And how is a candidate who needs support for two hours going to last four years?

Christie would have been better off had the debate been held in water:

Rand Paul is a smart, commonsensical guy, and his voice sounds authoritative enough. But at 5' 8," he looks a little elfin (note the shape of his ear):

Paul isn't quite pretty enough to have been one of the elves in Lord of the Rings, but with his Irish-looking features, he could easily have been one of the hobbits:

Unfortunately for Paul, America doesn't seem to want President Frodo.

Yes, this is an awfully superficial analysis of the Republican field. But, the fact is, physical considerations -- which are often referred to as "presence," or "charisma" -- do count with the voters. And it's always been my contention that the voters these factors resonate most strongly with are those unaware that they are swayed by such things.


Jackie M said...

This is far and away the most entertaining coverage of the Republican field I've read thus far; thank you, sir :)

John Craig said...

Jackie M --
Thank YOU.

Remnant said...

I cannot look at Donald Trump (who I like) without being reminded of Jim Carey playing Andy Kaufman playing Tony Clifton in Man on the Moon.

"it's hard to imagine [Carson] out negotiating Vladimir Putin"

Well, of course it is; he's a doctor. Why anyone -- let alone some absurd percentage of the Republican base -- is taking the latest Magic Negro seriously as a politician is beyond me. I agree: nice guy. In fact, speaking of Youtube clips, here's what comes to mind when people say "Ben Carson is a nice guy": the scene in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci's character takes his date to task for talking about Sammy Davis Jr.

"Why don't you just leave it alone now. I understand what you said. He's talented. Leave it at that; he's very talented."

Last night on Twitter, Patton Oswalt (who I had never heard of before) posted the following very funny impressions of the candidates based on Dungeons and Dragons parameters:

"Ted Cruz = dwarf cleric with 3 Charisma"

"John Kasich = level 4 fighter with standard plate armor and a standard long sword, 10 strength"

"Chris Christie = shambling mound"

"Carly Fiorinia = level 5 Drow elf with a + 1 Ring of Vampiric regeneration"

"Rand Paul = halfling thief" [Very similar to John Craig's description!!]

"Jeb Bush = NPC with 8s in all attributes and leather armor" [NPC means "non-player character, or non-person character. Ouch!]

"Ben Carson = necromancer, 19 intelligence, 4 wisdom"

"Marco Rubio = paladin, 18 charisma, all other stats 9, cursed broadsword"

"Mike Huckabee = gelatinous cube"

"Trump = level 21 demi-liche, Lamarkin's Rod of Disease, Cloak of Revulsion"

John Craig said...

Remnant --
I watched those Youtube clips, but couldn't really see the resemblance, beyond the bloatedness. (But come on, a billionaire is SUPPOSED to look a little bloated.)

Agreed about Carson. He must appeal to the voters who want to prove their goodness by voting for a black. The Republicans flirted with Herman Cain early in the primaries as well, but he faded, and I suspect Carson will as well.

I never played Dungeons and Dragons, so don't really get all those references. Patton Oswalt's one of the few comedians willing to express any conservative opinions.

Anonymous said...

Granted, Dr. Ben Carson doesn't have the most dynamic personality, but he could do our country a load of good. I feel that he is trustworthy (that's important to me). For me, it's either him or Trump.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
I agree, Carson is trustworthy, but he's basically running for President because he gave a couple of conservative speeches and people suggested he run, because there's a big thirst out there for a prominent black conservative politician, just as there was for any black President before Obama came along. I don't get the impression Carson has though much about th nuts and bolts of running a government. (Though I have to admit, I don't get that impression of Trump, either.)

I'm surprised you don't like Huckabee.

Anonymous said...

I'm an independent, having voted for Democrats in the past (though it's a rare move on my part). Mike Huckabee is okay. I prefer Trump and Carson over him, though.


Runner Katy said...

This was so entertaining! So based on your superficial analysis, who would you think has "won" the beauty pageant of voters?

John Craig said...

Katy --
Thank you. I think it's too early to declare a winner.

I'm rooting for Trump, though, I like his stances on immigration, the trade pacts, China, and the Middle East. (Can't say I was rooting for Goldfinger in that movie though.)

Random said...

This is unrelated but have you seen this "real life ratings" app:
This is f*cking insane.

John Craig said...

Random --
If, as Cordray says, people can only review you if you sign up for the app yourself, and if you have the power to delete bad reviews of yourself, then it's not nearly so destructive as it was originally made out to be. Of course, if it's actually a "positivity-only" app, then it also loses its usefulness.

Caterpony said...

It's always fun to watch people working two or three characters deep. That is, it's fun when they actually have the talent to do it.

Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne did it their whole careers. That is, "Marilyn Monroe" and "John Wayne" were characters created by Norma Jeane (whatever-Baker, Mortenson, Dougherty, DiMaggio, if it didn't matter to her why should anyone else care?) and Marion Morrison and they played them to a hilt. 'Marilyn' died early: 'John Wayne' had a career that spanned two generations. A guy who was nailing Clara Bow was still a major box office presence until the mid-70's. I saw his last three or four movies in grade school and junior high as first run films.

Others do it once and it works. A lot of people thought Michelle Pfeiffer in 'Scarface" was really the then-big singer Debbie Harry. Harry was trying to parlay her success in the nascent music video and TV variety music shows into a film career, and was for about two years really huge, but insiders had her pegged as someone who was not a long term player, unlike Madonna. Pfeiffer had her mannerisms, her speech, everything pretty well nailed. All she lacked was the three inch brown roots in the back of her hair. And it worked stunningly well. Of course, there's always Courtney Love's role as Althea Flynt in "The People vs.", but hey, that wasn't acting, that was cinema verite'.

The problem with politicians is that they are really not very good actors, Ronald Reagan being the exception that tests the rule.

(Exceptions never prove rules, they test them; e.g., "_A_ nation has _a_ language". "Switzerland has four languages. Is it not a nation?" You then have to explain that Switzerland is, formally, the Helvetic Confederation, it is composed of cantons that are monolingual in their internal governance, etc,etc.)

To which we ask the question, "Why is it politicians are really not good actors?" The same questions could be asked of salespeople, especially on the retail level, where theoretically a first rate actor could simply clean house. The answer seems to be that good actors find politics and sales, on the mundane rather than theoretical level, utterly unbearable. Actors portray salespeople very well, but to actually go out there and do it for any length of time would drive most to insanity. The type of interaction needed, with real life consequences, is simply something that is at utter odds with the personality. I'm guessing the other exceptions, like Schwarzenegger, test the rule as well, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to say just how, other than to repeat the canard that Arnold is a poor actor or politician or both. I'm not sure those things are true.

mark said...

I get the crutch part but I think it shows an aggressive nature. He was a former prosecutor and that is how I take the lean but yes, he probably does get tired. Cruz's response could have been canned. You can guess the Donald is going to get some snarky questions and Bush is going to be asked about his campaign. Cruz heard the questions and the tone of the moderators and just tick, tick, tick sprung his canned response right back at them. I mean the answer was a home run. I actually admire it more thinking that Cruz's comment was, at least, partially canned(perhaps we should use the term fresh frozen).

Why did you like Cruz's answer? I think it was because he stood up for the other candidates. If he had just talked about his own wounds, he would have sounded like a whiner. It actually, was very similar to the response Bernie Sanders gave about Hillary's emails. However, I hated that response because Bernie had to lecture me about what the real issue is. This is why beloved Bernie usually seems to me to be an arrogant guy.

John Craig said...

Caterpony --
Your comment sparked a lot of thoughts. I think we all fall into an act of some sort and just sort of stick with it because it works for us. And all of the politicians on stage have an act that's worked for them pretty well. For instance, Huckabee does the Commonsensical Heartfelt Religious Country Boy act extremely well. It's worked for him, got him elected Governor of Arkansas, and it's probably not even a bad fit (i.e., he mostly believes in the values he espouses, and is comfortable with that act). Marco Rubio does Earnest very well; it got him elected to the US Senate. (Not sure about the fit there.) Jeb Bush's problem is that he doesn't have a good act; he's just himself up there on stage, and as a result seems lost; he needs a character with predictable responses, which he doesn't have, and so looks like a loser.

You're right, the real great actors would be bored with just one role. Which is why politics is more suitable for the matinee idol-type of actor, who really has only one role. Reagan was one such (he never played evil onscreen); Eastwood would have been another, had he ever pursued politics seriously, beyond being Mayor of Carmel. Johnny Depp and Daniel Day Lewis could never have been politicians, they would have been slipping in and out of the role too often. A politicians needs a sincere act he's willing to stick with.

John Craig said...

Mark --
No question, Christie is pugnacious. As I was saying in response to Caterpony's comment, he's got one act -- Mr. Pugnacious -- and he does it well. But no act could overcome his physicality, and he's have a hard time just standing up for two hours.

Cruz's response was impressive because it couldn't have been canned, unless he'd been given the questions of the moderators ahead of time. Most politicians are doing well just to remember the ones they've been given. Cruz remembered all of those questions, cleverly tweaked each one just a little, and threw them back at the moderator. To be able to do that in the heat of battle is impressive.

mark said...

I think Christie could stand up for 2 hours if he could talk more and be energized by the combat but there are too many people on the stage for that. Cruz's response was clever but a bit dishonest. I'm not sure Ben Carson can do math or Becky Quick for that matter. When you propose a radical tax plan you should be questioned about it. The other parts of Cruz's remark I like. I hate it when moderators ask the politicians about their poll numbers. It is like asking a coach about the score of the game during half time. Unfortunately, the debate isn't half time and Jeb deserved that time to make gains for his lost cause. I also think your impression and Jeb's body language would be different if he could add 10 points to his numbers before the next debate. Jeb is Jeb but some success would give him a little swagger to work with. Great blog.

John Craig said...

Thank you Mark.

I agree that two hours is a long time to stand, I'd want to lean against something too. But the thing about Christie is that he would be leaning against the podium even when it was his turn to talk.

Jeb's problem is not just his body language but in a strange way, his character. He's not a particularly narcissistic person, especially by the standards of people who run for the Presidency, so he doesn't have the natural armor that comes with a more bristly personality, like Trump's. If you insult Trump, he fires back with both barrels blazing. If you insult Bush, he just stands there and looks sort of sheepish. That makes for an easier guy to get along with, if you know him personally; but it doesn't make for a natural debater or compelling stage presence. Plus, as I said, despite being the tallest guy on the stage, he looks like a wimp, and that doesn't help either.

Anonymous said...


Great analysis of the debate, I've always liked Cruz since his election years ago for senator. He's got the balls to stand up against both parties and do whats right for the people and more importantly, the constitution. One point many people don't know about him is that he has an audiographic memory. Everything he hears he remembers in that order, its the reason he was able to repeat the moderators comments in order during the debate. This was another reason why he called out Mitch Mcconell on the floor of the Senate for lying to all the republicans about not reinstating the Import/Export bank. Sure the RINO's got pissed at him for speaking ill about another memeber but no one questioned the content of what he said because they knew it was exactly as Mcconnell had spoken. Just a tidbit of info for you.

Hope you and the family are well,

Mad Dog

John Craig said...

Mad Dog --
That's interesting about Cruz's memory, thank you. And it certainly makes sense in the context of this debate. I'm afraid I can't say I'm wild about Cruz's politics, though. He's going after Sheldon Adelson's money with way too much gusto, and the fact is, he'd have us do Israel's bidding at a moment's notice.

But there's no questioning his mental firepower, that's for sure.

Former Darfur said...

What isn't discussed much about Marilyn Monroe is not so much that she "worked two roles deep" for much of her career (she pretty much did, but not always) but that she did something that is nearly impossible: she started out as a naturalistic actress and then studied Method Acting under Strasberg. Usually, the people who are good at "unschooled" acting and then start something like Method Acting are ruined by it, just as successful untrained pop singers who attempt rigorous formal music studies are usually ruined by it, if they don't quit early on. Monroe did it successfully both ways.

But I think Method Acting and psychiatry were her undoing as a person. She was not unstable in her earlier years, but the more she pursued these things, the worse she got. And, I am convinced that her relationship with Ralph Greenson (ne Romeo Greenschpoon) was much like that of Beach Boy Brian Wilson's with Eugene Landy. I think Wilson would likely have met a similar fate were it not for the efforts of family members (which Monroe didn't have: Arthur Miller didn't care and Joe DiMaggio was simply too-let's be blunt-dumb to deal with it) and the fact that Wilson lived later in a time when psychiatrists were not accorded such status as they were in the very early 1960's, especially Greenson, who was famous for his work with disturbed WWII veterans.

(Sufficiently famous that Greenson was the model for Gregory Peck's character in the film 'Captain Newman, M.D'.)

Wikipedia has this interesting bit on Greenson:
Greenson was well known for his early work on returning WWII soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress. He also had other famous clients, such as Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra, and Vivien Leigh. Greenson and his wife Hildi Greenson, were the darlings of the Southern California psychoanalytic community, intellectuals and with certain notables in the entertainment industry. They were good friends with Anna Freud, Fawn Brodie and Margaret Mead.

Mead and Freud may be familiar to many readers of this site, but I would point out that Fawn Brodie was the historian who wrote a biography of Joseph Smith, "No Man Knows My History",for which she was kicked out of the LDS Church.

John Craig said...

Former Darfur --
i actually wrote that response to your other comment on "The missing joke about Obama" in which I referred to Monroe's "unscrupulous physician" before I saw your comment above. I think you're right, Greenson and Landy were cut from the same cloth. Greenson was certainly a social climber of the first rank, judging from that Wiki description, and that's always a red flag.

Interesting theory about how actors are ruined by studying acting, especially Method acting; it rings true. I also hadn't realized that about unschooled musicians.

Thank you for all that.

Anonymous said...

Ben Carson has some original views about the pyramids -

I'm afraid he's just forfeited his right to be taken seriously as far as I'm concerned.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Carson is a fundamentalist and he seems to take his religion awfully seriously. I don't know how a guy who was a neurosurgeon can come up with a theory like that….but he does. I've never understood his appeal either, but he seems to have a lot of fundamentalist support.