Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's Body Language in Second Debate, Apology, Smiles and Lion Behavior
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By Kevin Uhrmacher and Lazaheir lecterns, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were able to roam the stage at Sunday night’s presidential debate. And while the spoken insults and accusations will provide much fodder for political analysts in the days ahead, we invited two body language experts to dissect the candidates’ nonverbal cues.Here’s a bit about the experts, whose lightly edited thoughts about the debate are below:David Givens, who is the director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies, a nonprofit research center in Spokane, Wash. Givens also contributed to this helpful dissection of Clinton and Trump’s body language before the debate.
Patti Wood, author of the book “SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma.” Wood has experience analyzing body language as it relates to anger, gender roles and apologies, which all proved helpful during the 90-minute spectacle.
The candidates walked out and, in a break with tradition, did not shake hands. Wood offered a thought about why it is so important. “A handshake … signals we are equals. Now we can come out fighting,” she wrote in an email Sunday night. The candidates did eventually shake hands, but not until the close of the debate.
‘He circles like a lion’: Trump declares his dominance
Looking to reverse his fortunes after a week on the defensive, Trump demanded attention with a display of aggressive sniffing, interruptions and emphatic pointing. But, compared with the last debate, “Donald was quite relaxed and calm,” Givens said.
“Trump came forth in full alpha-male mode,” The Post’s Karen Tumulty wrote after the debate. The experts agreed. Trump repeatedly pointed at Clinton as he lobbed accusations at her, a gesture Givens called “aggressive in all cultures.” He also compared Trump’s snorts with “a bull in attack mode.”
“I think the anger actually worked for him,” Wood suggested after the debate. “That’s his superpower.” For Trump, anger helps establish dominance and has a strong appeal, especially for disaffected voters, she said, adding that Americans are often drawn to the candidate who appears stronger.
Givens: “Trump’s constant pacing and restless movements around the stage attracted attention from Hillary's words, and visually disrespected her physical presence on the stage, as in ‘I am big, you are small.’ ” Wood: “He circles her during her turn. He is like a lion: going in with a biting attack, then keeping his attack energy going by continuing to move and circle.”
Givens: “Sitting is submissive; standing up is assertive. He paces [during her turn] to stay in motion, taking visual attention away from Clinton and her words. … His main message is ‘I am here, see me.’ “
Givens: “His manner of leaning hands and arms on the back of his chair as Hillary spoke was aggressive, too, as in a ‘broadside display’ of power. [It’s] common in the vertebrate world of males showing the biggest, widest parts of their bodies to intimidate rivals.”
Commenting on Trump’s ‘apology’ for the lewd 2005 video first reported by The Post on Oct. 7:
Wood: “Trump attacked Bill Clinton when he had a chance to apologize. A true apology does not include an attack.”Wood: “Clinton smiled as she began to respond to the Bill attack. [That] signals she was ready and confident. Her voice as she delivered was the strongest and angriest I have heard.”
Clinton stumbles on the smile
While Wood approved of Clinton’s performance overall, she said Clinton’s smile looked inappropriate. Both experts also thought Clinton looked comparatively weak when she sat as Trump spoke. Wood: “She stayed calm and even through most of the debates. His circling and staying close to her did not affect her, as scary as it looked to us.”
Givens: “Hillary addressed listeners sympathetically, with positive feelings and positive regard.”
Clinton reacts to Trump’s statement about using a special prosecutor to look into her “situation.” Reacting to Trump’s statements about her email scandal Trump criticizes Clinton saying she is “all talk” Both candidates react to a question asking for “one positive thing you respect in one another.”
Wood: “Because I've been analyzing her body language for a long time, I know her baseline … I think [the smile] was okay in the first debate [since] Trump rambled and had run-on sentences. [He] often did not make sense, so smiling seemed appropriate to communicate that she felt it was funny.”
The second debate was different, Wood said, because Trump spoke in more complete sentences and lobbed more serious accusations her way. This made it feel less natural for Clinton to crack a big smile.
Advice for the next debate
Trump should hew closer to his second debate performance, where he was more consistent across the entire 90 minutes, Wood said.
For Clinton, she offered some counterintuitive advice: Continue to break the rules. This may sound familiar to people who have worked in a corporate setting, Wood said. “A powerful person often breaks the rules.” (Think of the boss who shows up late to meetings.)
If Trump continues to flout the debate guidelines in the Oct. 19 debate, but Clinton sticks to her allotted time, she could look weak by comparison. Wood said she should monitor Trump and continue to establish power by going over her time limits if necessary.