How Trump’s bumptious body language dominates

Story highlights

Experts say Trump's body language communicates that he's alpha male, a force to be reckoned with

"Nobody has done it this well since John F. Kennedy. Or Mussolini," one expert says

CNN —  

For anyone who watched Wednesday night’s Republican primary debate with the volume turned down, there was a clear winner, communication experts say: Donald Trump, hands down.

“When it comes to body language, nobody does it better,” says David Givens, director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington. “He just neutralizes the opposition.”

While Trump’s opponents appear to be “wooden,” Givens says, Trump is “exceptional” at communicating with his body.

“Nobody has done it this well since John F. Kennedy. Or Mussolini,” Givens says, referring to the founder of Fascism, who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943.

The message Trump communicates is that he’s the alpha male and a force to be reckoned with, says Nick Morgan, a communication expert and author of “Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others and Maximizing Your Personal Impact.”

When his opponents say something he doesn’t like, he purses his lips, much the way a parent might scowl at a misbehaving child. Trump faces his opponents with his torso, not just his head, showing he’s not afraid of them. Appearance is an important part of body language, and his voluminous hair speaks volumes, signaling he’s not afraid to be noticed.

Related: Republican debate reactions, captured in GIFs

These types of gestures are universal, but they contradict the conventional wisdom about how presidential candidates should present themselves in public.

“I’ve coached candidates, and the prevailing wisdom has been that politicians should appear dignified, presidential, in control of their emotions. What he’s doing is something new, more like a celebrity or a reality TV star – and it’s working,” Morgan says.

But will it work in the long run?

“Does the public want a reality TV star in the White House? That’s the question we’re all dying to have answered,” Morgan says.

Body language experts point out these five signature Trumpisms that put him in a class by himself among candidates:

He leans forward on the lectern.

Trump’s opponents tend to stand up straight, which might please their mothers, but doesn’t do much for the audience. Givens notes that Trump puts his hands on the lectern and leans forward. “It’s like he’s doing a pushup. It’s a display of power,” he says.

He gestures out to the audience.

It’s a very big gesture, Givens says, reaching way out. “He extends his hands towards you. It’s very personal,” Givens says.

His palms are up.

When he does these big gestures, he usually has his palms up.

“He’s saying ‘I’m open, I am who I am and you can trust me,’” Morgan says, noting that Trump tends to have his palms up when facing the audience or when journalists ask him questions, but not when he faces his opponents.

He turns his torso toward his opponents.

His opponents might turn just their heads or shoulders, but Trump fully faces his opponents. “This shows he has no fear,” says Eric Goulard, a body language expert in Lille, France. “I would compare him to an animal ready to attack another animal.”

He purses his lips when opponents are talking.

This, along with big gestures with his right hand, is what reminds Givens of Benito Mussolini. “He’s basically saying, ‘I don’t need to worry about the rest of you insects,’” Morgan says.