The first half of Thursday’s Democratic debate, with questions about domestic issues, was won by Hillary Clinton. Her victory on domestic issues may surprise many liberal Democrats because Sanders speaks powerfully about addressing class and racial differences, political corruption, and Wall Street excesses. How did Ms. Clinton manage to beat Mr. Sanders on his home turf? Hillary compared herself repeatedly to Bernie, agreeing with his positions, but arguing that she would do a better job than he would. In this part of the debate, Senator Sanders did not always directly answer the questions, nor did he counter Hillary’s attacks. The second half of the debate was a draw. As a former Secretary of State, Hillary should shine when the candidates shifted to talking about foreign policy, but although her knowledge was impressive, Sanders attacked her by questioning her judgment. She was playing defense much of the time.
The verbal exchanges in this debate did not reveal many new insights into the candidates’ positions or character. Of course, some voters are just now tuning into the campaign, so the debate was beneficial. Besides listening to the verbal exchanges, I also analyzed the nonverbal messages the candidates were sending. I watched parts of the debate without sound and focused on some of their nonverbal behaviors.
A presidential candidate has to have good nonverbal communication skills. Candidates need to send nonverbal signals affirming that they are powerful leaders. One way to do this is through their appearance. Hillary’s yellow and black pants suit was an interesting choice. The shirt had a high collar, a flap over the buttons, and a symmetrical design. The yellowish color signified optimism. Her face was heavily made up with dark red lipstick. Her hair looked a little like a helmet, combed straight to reveal her forehead (seriousness). She looked like a successful businesswoman. Focus groups are often used by politicians’ campaign managers to help make choices about a candidate’s looks. This particular focus group seemed to prefer the Minion look. Just kidding. Her age was hidden well, and she looked professional but stiff (even with the bright yellow colored top). Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, wore a dark suit with a light blue shirt. He had on a dark blue tie with light blue and white spots. Sanders apparently ignored the memo that recommended men seeking power wear red ties. On his lapel, instead of the US flag, which most politicians wear, Sanders wore a gold button, which may be a button given to members of the US Senate. He was mostly bald and his hair was white. He wore rectangular shaped glasses in a narrow bronze frame. That rectangular shape is often worn by techies, and the narrow frames may signal creativity or intellect, but the nose pads seemed a bit old-fashioned. He gave the impression that he doesn’t care much about impressions.
Nonverbally, Sanders still managed to convey passion and energy at the age of 74. Although his voice got raspy at times, he conveyed his emotions well by his changes in pitch and loudness. His gestures were often a bit frantic; he is always shaking his hands and pointing his fingers around his head level. This reinforces the image of energy and passion, but may also be interpreted as frustration and lack of control. He looked weak, nonverbally, in the reaction shots. He didn’t always seem to be aware that he was on camera. At times, Senator Sanders didn’t pay attention to Hillary. When she criticized him, his facial expressions reflected disbelief and surprise. The worst signals he sent, however, occurred when he repeatedly raised his hand to ask for time to reply to what Hillary said. This gave the impression that he was not in charge–both the commentators and Hilary were running the show, not him. His nonverbals reminded me of the eccentric scientist, Doc Brown, in Back to the Future. Probably not the impression he wanted to give.
Hillary, when not speaking, looked stone-faced as she stared at Bernie Sanders. She showed no emotion at all while Sanders spoke. She has been well coached. While speaking, she gestured frequently but not as rapidly as Senator Sanders did. Her gestures were used to emphasize the points she was making verbally. She projected a powerful image and spoke forcefully, but the emotions she expressed through her voice seemed forced. She did manage to smile at times, but I can’t imagine her (or Bernie for that matter), telling a funny joke at the dinner table. Hillary was too cerebral. Bernie was too consumed.
It’s a close call, but the nonverbal contest went to Hillary Clinton. She looked and acted presidential. Sanders looked more like the opposition leader, i.e., the person who wanted to be president. This debate made me wish I could create a new candidate, an American-born Frankenstein. This candidate, Frankie, would have the experience and intelligence of Hillary Clinton and the passion and ethics of Bernie Sanders. Trump’s negotiation skills and ability to control the media would be included in Frankie’s tool box. Frankie would also have Ted Cruz’s debating skills and Marco Rubio’s youth and energy. Kasich’s new-found wisdom and desire to breach political differences would be included. I’d stuff Frankie’s pockets with some of Jeb Bush’s money, since I can’t really think of anything else he has to offer. Frankie would be the ideal candidate.
Let’s hope that whoever is elected president will compare her or himself to Frankie and realize what traits she or he needs to be a great leader. Let’s hope that the winner will surround her/himself with people who have the talents needed to renew this country and prepare it for the future.