Hidden dynamics of presidential debate

How two unusual performances on the debate stage strengthened my vote

Thomas Rousseau

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump’s three presidential debates have generated plenty of discussion. Not because they examined each candidate’s political agenda but because of the very distinctive physical presence each candidate had onstage.

They are full of personal tics, unusual uses of space and barely suppressed eye-rolls and sentences that while seemingly unimportant, revealed a lot about each candidate’s character and presidential potential.

Nominee No. 1: Donald Trump, Republican

Trump declares dominance: By lurking and pacing around Clinton as she spoke and always standing a little too close – Trump managed to reinforce his oppositions’ view of him as an patently aggressive bully and frustrated child during the debates. His constant, restless movements, emphatic pointing and grimacing redirected attention away from Hillary’s statements.

By interrupting her and shouting over her, Trump visually disrespected Hillary’s physical presence on the stage. The anger and impatience present in his actions helped establish dominance and a strong appeal, especially for disaffected voters. But let me be clear: although there is appeal in power and dominance, underneath is a wild temperament strongly unfit for presidency.

Unprecedented remarks and responses:


“Such a nasty woman.”

“You’d be in jail!”

These are only a few examples of the emotionally charged remarks Trump made during the debates. The underlying tone of these statements was defensive. The use of such derogatory and accusatory language revealed that Trump was incapable to respond maturely when asked to reflect on his very apparent mistakes. His strategy was to cover his own fault with negative qualities of former Secretary of State Clinton or her husband, that often times distracted from the purpose of the debate. This incapability to respond to a question, to accept fault and to speak respectfully are extremely loud warning signs.


A looming presence: If Trump wanted to improve his image as a man who had just recently gloated about sexually assaulting a woman, he most definitely should not have been seen physically looming over a woman on national television. In light of a recent scandal from Access Hollywood, Trump’s overpowering body language and invasion into Clinton’s space during the debate can be interpreted as disrespectful.

Nominee No. 2: Hillary Clinton, Democrat

Donald: “Donald,” she said at the start, middle and end of almost every sentence. Each time Clinton directly addressed Trump in her statements by first name, she strategically associated a name and a face with the attacks she was making. This made her claims more personal, real and believable. This pattern was carried out through each debate. Without using vicious language and remaining calm, Clinton was able to display her maturity, while slowly breaking down her opponent.

Two words…Alicia Machado: The mention of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe who Trump had repeatedly humiliated, set in motion a discussion about his questionable behavior towards women. He was not able to utilize his natural mode of defense, which was to insult the other men on the stage like he did in the primaries. When a woman confronted him, he was left stuttering. As Clinton reminded male and female voters of Trump’s despicable behavior towards women, she strengthened her appeal among them.

Bland, yet brilliant: Clinton is criticized for her over preparation, caution and blandness. However, in all the debates, these qualities helped her. Instead of giving a theatrical, loud performance, Clinton cleverly utilized her “dull” persona. While Trump rambled insults and accusations, Clinton addressed policy and experience. Reminding voters who was more qualified and capable.

After watching his performance, I will not deny that Trump dominated the stage. However, he did so as a businessman not a president.

What I observed of Trump during the presidential debates was not a candidate who was positively outspoken or educated, but a man who is extremely and almost frighteningly comfortable in front of the camera. A man whose years in business, making deals and negotiating, has made him capable of manipulating voters. Trump was performing, putting on a show – what he does best. But as voters, we are deeply misguided if we do not see the lack of substance behind his claims. We must not mistake an uneducated man for outspoken.

After watching the debate, my choice of candidate has not only been strengthened, but solidified. Trump’s whole career has played out through television. Clinton, in the halls of Congress, working amongst other political leaders and exposed to the work, effort and passion required to keep America great – and that is someone I want for president.