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.