Are the Presidential Candidates Bullies?

Are the Presidential Candidates Bullies?
Patti Wood MA, CSP
Body Language Expert

Are the Presidential Candidates Bullies? Do you see verbal and body language bulling in the presidential debates and the race? Bullying is defined as making threats, rumors or attacking someone physically or verbally.  If we laugh, clap and repeat with humor when someone is making bulling remarks I think we are condoning bullying.

The candidates have bullied each other and in this article I will list specific things that they do.  Listen to and watch the candidates and imagine a child on the playground saying those things to your five year old. How would you feel? How would you feel if someone said those things about you? Watch the debates with your children and have them count and point out the attacks and jabs.  Stop the recording and talk about what you have seen and ask them their feeling and state yours!

Donald Trump - We see him punctuating almost every sentence with a strong gesture. His attacking, bulling gestures include, finger points that look like stabbing, chops that look like axing and arm sweeps that look like sword moves. In debates he slices, dices and chops the other candidates to pieces.  His weapon like gestures, combined with his growls, scowls and grimaces and loud yelling make him a fearsome bully. This combined with big head and jaw and height and dare I say it, big hands unfortunately make him look like the biggest bully on the playground and unfortunately make him look like the most powerful candidate. He looks like, at least to our primate limbic brains, the aggressive alpha male candidate. A little extra bulling power comes from his normally low, growly voice.  In the analysis of the Debates from the past hundred years the candidate with the lowest voice won. Lower tones in the voice are formed by a larger larynx. Trump is the lion roaring and that sound is scarier and wins over a “nice” candidate. If he’s on the screen, and we’re looking at several other people too, his bulling, his loudness, his gestures, and his expressions all draw our attention straight to him. We can’t take our eyes off a fight, and we look at the person we perceive as winning the fight with more frequency. We don’t look as long at the victim. Our brains make us look to where we see the most threat to us!

Verbally, Trump has called Cruz, a “loser” and “liar.” He has made cruel remarks about the physical appearance of Carly Fiona such as, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”  He has called a female news correspondent a “bimbo.” He has made ugly attacking remarks about Hillary Clinton, Mexicans and Muslims. In one debate after Hillary was late coming back from a bathroom break he bullied her saying "I thought she gave up," Trump said at the rally. "Where did she go? Where did Hillary go? They had to start the debate without her. Phase II. “I know where she went. It's disgusting. I don't want to talk about it."

Ted Cruz - Though he is a bully he is not the biggest bully on the playground.  Overall his gestures are slightly lower and are more darting and short lived making him appear less forceful and confident than he could be. For example, notice the breadth and length of Trump’s gestures. I am not endorsing Trump, rather you need to know that our primitive limbic brains see the candidate with the most powerful, larger, bigger and long lasting body language cues. So even when Cruz bullies with a statement like, “Let’s say I am a maniac and everyone else on this stage is stupid fat and ugly.” He looks like the sly mean bully not the “in your face” bully how Trump can appear.

Bernie Sanders. He has not always been a bully, He previously has had a warm, genuine smile that is the most likable, believable smile of all the candidates. He also, in the past, shows great integrity in his messaging, that his word message tracks and agrees with his body language and vocal cues. In his Super Tuesday speech he was much more negative in his verbal and nonverbal messaging than I have seen him in his other speeches. He made several sour pursed lip expressions and a few downward turned and tight lipped angry looks and looks of disgust. This was a profound contrast for his iconic warm, smiling and likeable image.  He also yelled a lot. Bullying is contagious and he caught it. When Hillary Clinton rudely interrupted and talked over Sanders in the Democratic debate Sanders yelled, “Excuse me I am talking” while swinging his arm up then striking down and out as if he wanted to bring his hand down on her shoulder to throttle her. His gestures are now often large, forceful and attacking. They often go forward to the screen so he is bulling not just the other candidate, but anyone who is for that candidate.

Hillary Clinton - In one debate she said, “Enough is enough if you have something to say to me say it to me directly, I think it is time to end the artful smear you and your campaign have been carrying out in recent weeks and talk about the issues.” Her request to stop being bullied was seen as bulling and got booed by the audience.
Her gestures are smaller though she does chop and strike out at Bernie and as she talks about Trump. I have talked about how her voice is often weak and raspy and shows great vocal strain. I think the effort to keep her voice in a lower more powerful register and speak loudly is straining it. Unfortunately, that strain sounds to a potential voter like a lack of strength, and perhaps a lack of character. I rather like the anger she is showing in current speeches and television appearances. She needs to be angry to fight and look powerful against Trump’s overriding anger. Look at my blogs on anger to note how we read anger as power. Yep, I am saying that she ramp up her anger, but she should not be a bully.

Gender Differences in Anger - Unfortunately, we perceive women’s anger differently than we do a man’s. Research shows that if a man is perceived as emotional he is considered more credible for getting angry. But when the woman was perceived as emotional, participants became surer of their own opinion, even if they considered the woman credible. As the researchers in one study put it: “When a woman expresses anger, this does not just make her seem less credible, but seems to make assessing her credibility irrelevant.” (

In research on emotions men show less emotions except for anger. Research across 37 cultures shows that men and women more accurately display gender-stereotypic expressions– men more accurately express anger, contempt and happiness, while women more accurately express fear and happiness.
How do men and women feel when they get angry, researchers have found that men felt less effective and less instrumental when forced to hold their anger in, whereas women didn't feel nearly as constricted when they didn't express their anger directly. They also found a correlation between expressing one's anger outwardly and being assertive in men, but not in women

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at