Last night was certainly the most entertaining political debate of our time.
A campaign staffer compared prepping for this debate to prepping for the Grand Prix when you know that one of the other drivers will be drunk. Yes, but that certainly would make for one hilarious Grand Prix, yes?
And so it was here. Trump was full-on Trump, seemingly immune to the attacks that would have destroyed any lesser personality, even though the moderators seemed to hate him as much as Rand Paul did. Part of that has to do with that intangible attribute known as “gravitas,” also known as “stage presence” in the theater world.
This has nothing to do with talent, skill, intelligence, or (as we’ll get to in a moment) gender. It has everything to do with this alpha-wolf magnetism that declares “I. am the LEADER.” the moment the person walks in the door, without their having to say a word. It’s that quality that makes you naturally bring your gaze in the alpha wolf’s direction. It’s the same thing as the “dominance” that is so important in many mammalian species.
I try not to do too many “hot takes” around here so I won’t talk about who won or lost the debates. Here is simply my ranking of gravitas: who’s got it, who’s faking it, and who comes across as a little man who accidentally wandered onto the stage.
First, the natural-born alphas. If any of these asks you to fetch them an everything bagel with cream cheese, you’ll be at the corner store before even asking yourself why you’re there, no matter how deplorable you think their politics are.
- Carly Fiorina. Again, this is no measure of actual talent. Under her rule, HP stock tumbled 53%, and there is no reason to believe she wouldn’t be an even bigger disaster as president. But there was no question she was the iron-fisted alpha leader of the corporation during her tenure. Similarly, there is no question that she owned that stage during the JV debates, despite being the physically smallest person in the GOP field, despite being dismissed by the pundit class, despite being in a party that cannot be described as pro-women, despite being like one-fifth the size of Pataki. I bet you didn’t even remember Pataki was a candidate until I mentioned him, and he’s like seven feet tall or some such thing. That’s what a lack of gravitas does. On the other hand, conservative pundits are already talking about Fiorina as veep based purely on her stage presence.
- Chris Christie. I suppose physical size CAN help magnify presence, and Christie dominated any exchange he was in despite practically falling off the outer edge of the stage. He was just there in that undefinable way that many of his opponents were not, and that quality is the only thing keeping his moribund campaign alive.
- The Donald. Hate to admit it, but it’s true. He’s been faking his way through
business, through reality TV, and now politics entirely through stage presence alone. Shows how powerful this attribute is, doesn’t it? According to this acting school, “Stage presence refers to the certain charisma and charm that a theater actor or performer possesses that draws in an audience and commands their full attention.” We all know who this described when the view was of the debate stage.
- Megyn Kelly. And we all know equally as well who that quote described when the view was in the other direction. Seeing Kelly clash with fellow alpha Trump was one hell of a show. Bret Baier and Chris Wallace were barely even there at the moderator’s table compared to Kelly, were they? Projection of presence is an indispensable attribute for a newscaster, and whatever her politics, she has that same je-ne-sais-quoi as Cronkite, Brokaw and Brian Williams. (Williams does prove that things besides power of personality also matter, though; similarly, presidential primaries are littered with alpha dogs like Howard Dean who wind up self-destructing.)
The people with a little gravitas, or the ability to fake it:
Scott Walker. He had to stand right next to The Donald, but at least made himself relevant, and was certainly more human than the presumptive nominee. He would make for an excellent veep candidate. Jindal and Perry both did ok at the kiddie table, even if they got upstaged by Fiorina. Carson drew in the cameras on those rare instances he got a question, although his calm and reserved doctor’s nature reined in his presence. Huckabee got himself heard on a couple occasions. Cruz also managed to hit a little above his weight.
And the people who just need to go away:
Rand Paul. I once thought he could be the new blood of the GOP. Here, he was just a bitter, petty little man, wondering why The Donald keeps beating him up and stealing his lunch money. No wonder Christie jumped in to pick on him. Bush and Rubio: they were more choreographed and uncanny-valley artificial than one of those creepy robots at Disney World. Which is located in their state. Coincidence? Pataki, as mentioned, managed to be the smallest man at the kiddie-table debate despite his NBA height. The two guys at Kelly’s table. Who the eff were they, and why weren’t they fetching Kelly’s coffee? And everyone else: the fact that I’m forgetting their names and can’t be bothered to look them up does not speak well to their chances, does it?
If you don’t have “it,” you won’t ever have “it.”
So how exactly do you define “gravitas” though??? Let’s turn to Urban Dictionary:
“Kiefer Sutherland’s favorite word