What the Republican candidates reveal through their body language

Dec 16, 2011

The Post's Sarah Kaufman analyzed the body language of each 2012 Republican presidential candidate frontrunner.

Breaking down the candidates:

Romney: The problem solver
Perry: Confident, but ready?
Bachmann: Certainty is her greatest strength, biggest weakness
Gingrich: The GOP's eccentric big thinker and bomb-thrower
Paul: The Alternative Candidate is a force to be reckoned with
Huntsman: A study in understatement
Santorum: Long on substance, short on support

Chat with Kaufman about her analysis of the candidates. Submit questions and comments now.

Hi everyone, glad you can join me as we chat about the GOP candidates hearts, minds, bodies, and all of the above. Let's get ready to rummmmmble....

During the debates, Rick Perry's body language is very telling. He stands very stiffly, head held high, arms unrelaxed, tense smile. The other candidates seem to be much more relaxed than he; they stand in an obviously more relaxed manner; nod their heads, smile. Perry's body language tells me that he is rigid, that he is egotistical, that he has difficulty relating to and with people. I used to work as a teacher in a maximum-security prison, and the inmates taught me volumes about body language!! A great gift, really, to be able to read another person.

Hi and welcome! great insight. I completely agree--he just does not look comfortable, which automatically makes one wonder about him. Can we trust this guy? I also think he's wearing his suits too big! Is he trying to compensate for something?

Romney has mostly kept calm during debates ...except around Perry, such as the $10k bet, Romney's hand on shoulder effort to silence RP, etc. Political blog commentariat know Romney's weaknesses: his flipfloppery, Bain Capital past (mass layoffs), lack of common touch (his jokes about unemployment to a crowd of unemployed folks, etc.). But Perry gets under Romney's skin on stage more than other candidates. What gives? What is Perry doing that gets to Romney that other R's are not?

Love this observation, and agree! Perhaps it's because Perry, in terms of physicality, is the only other bull in the shop. He looks kind of tough and solid, like he could hold his own in an alleyway. Just throwin that out there cuz I'm not a man, but I'm guessing these things communicate on some alpha-dog level. Also I think Romney knows he can take Perry on an intellectual level and likes to kinda put that in his face. What do you think?

I'm a lifelong Democrat with lower-back trouble, and definitely NOT a fan of Rick Perry's politics. However, I understand that he has major back pain from some sort of injuries. How much of what the first poster observed might be attributed simply to back trouble? I know I'd hate to be judged on those criteria.

That's an interesting point. But here's the tricky spot for the Texas governor. What we see is what we get. I totally sympathize with the huge effort it takes to debate and hold the stage, but then again, these folks all want to be president, and back pain or not--JFK had back pain, and George Washington had tooth pain, and FDR was severely physically handicapped--they are in front of the electorate. And how they come across influences our perceptions on some level.

I have to ask the question I guess everyone has-- what was up with Rick Perry in New Hampshire? The odd cadence in his speech, the goofy smiles, how he stood up on his toes, and that warm bear hug he gave that bottle of maple syrup. I mean, seriously!

Such a goofy moment, and it was never completely explained by his campaign. In fairness, the YouTube mashup made it look like one series of flubs and guffaws after another; those in the room tell me it wasn't such a nonstop comedy show. But it was weird. And the jokes weren't even that funny!

Both FDR & JFK had the complicity of the press in minimizing the exposure of their handicaps, though.

That is true. Those were different times, but they still appeared in front of the camera and somehow hid the pain . You raise a good point; been thinking about what FDR went through especially with Pearl Harbor Day having just passed--and his having to appear before Congress the next day with a killer speech.

I know Bachmann gets ridiculed a lot on tv for her eyes, but seriously, how do you read her usually intense stare in public? Ideas aside, I think she holds her own physical presence and poise in public and doesn't lack for confidence. But does that angry stare spoil how people perceive her?

She does hold her own, and it's been so interesting to see her onstage with the male field. Like Mary Richards--remember the Mary Tyler Moore character--with unshakable confidence, as you point out. The stare--I've heard it described as soul-sucking. Don't know what 's up with that. But eyes are so important, and staring isn't cool in any setting. Makes the lizard brain in us think we're being sized up for dinner.

And that's a wrap! Thanks everybody, enjoyed the questions, and looking forward to more fun from the campaign.

In This Chat
Sarah Kaufman
Sarah Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and has been The Washington Post's dance critic since 1996. That's a lot of "Nutcrackers." But after logging serious sit-time in opera houses, church basements, fairground tents and lawn chairs, what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it.
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