Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley body language expert weighs in on fifth GOP debate

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS



Maybe practice doesn’t make perfect after all.

After five Republican presidential debates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis still can’t smile authentically — but he beams naturally when going on the offensive, as he often did in Wednesday’s showdown with former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, body language expert Chris Ulrich told The Post.

Narrowed down to just two candidates – as front-runner former President Donald Trump again refused to participate – viewers of the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucus got a closer look at DeSantis and Haley’s strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies.

“Because of the dynamic of now there’s just the two of them, the cameras more laser focused on them,” Ulrich said. “We’re going to see their flaws.”

For DeSantis, that meant more shots of his cringeworthy smile, which Ulrich explained looks forced because his cheekbones and eyes don’t engage with his mouth. But it also meant he could focus his attacks, delivering “very strong” hits to Haley.

“The only time I think he ever really smiled is when he attacked,” he said. “We see a genuine smile when he seizes because he gets rounds of applause for it. And they hit – the attacks were effective.”

A body language expert analyzed how Gov. Ron DeSantis and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley acted during Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate. Ron Haviv/VII/Redux
Ulrich said DeSantis appeared more poised yet repeated many of his previous body language faux pas seen in earlier showdowns. AP

For example, Ulrich said DeSantis appeared confident and natural when delivering one of his strongest attacks on Haley of the night: “You can take the ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can’t take the United Nations our of the ambassador.”

“That was a really strongly delivered, powerful moment for him using open gestures,” Ulrich said. “And then after he delivers it, he has a spirit of smugness – kind of a sense of contempt.”

Five debates in, DeSantis appeared more poised yet repeated many of his previous body language faux pas seen in earlier showdowns.

“The flaws are consistent for DeSantis that he gets nervous, anxious, doesn’t know what to do,” Ulrich said. “His body at times can undermine the importance of his message and he just can’t smile when he gets attacked.”

Haley’s facial expression could be seen in different views depending on whether you are for or against the former South Carolina governor. Getty Images

Meanwhile, Haley spent much of the night smirking. It started almost at the onset, first popping up after DeSantis’ delivered his first attack calling her “mealy mouthed” in his opening remarks.

The second-favored candidate in the GOP race behind Trump, Haley has soared in previous debates. However, with a new stage set-up placing her within arm’s length of her opponent, Ulrich said Haley may have been thrown off her game.

“We saw body language that we hadn’t seen [from her] as much in the other debates – possibly because there was just one other candidate on stage, possibly because she didn’t have some answers for some of these attacks,” Ulrich said.

We see more imploded body language, more smirking, more body language that undermines the gravitas that she had built in the previous debates,” he added.

Ulrich says DeSantis has a “forced smile” because his cheekbones and eyes don’t engage with his mouth. AP
The former South Carolina governor appeared to show less empathy than in earlier debates – a trait that’s set her apart from her fellow Republican presidential candidates. REUTERS

While several of DeSantis’ jabs appeared to get under her skin, Haley’s dismayed facial expressions likely played differently for her supporters and the undecided, Ulrich said.

“If you like Haley, you see that smirk and are like, ‘Yep, he’s demeaning her. He is trying to undermine her as a candidate,” he said. “If you’re on the fence, you’re like, ‘Wow, she seems bothered and put off by this.”

What’s more, the former South Carolina governor appeared to show less empathy than in earlier debates – a trait that’s set her apart from her fellow Republican presidential candidates. But part of that could simply be that this was their fifth debate in as many months, Ulright said.

“Think about it: when we’re looking at a presidential candidate, we’re looking at ‘is this person competent?’ ‘Can they handle attacks?’ ‘Are they likable and can they empathize with us?” Ulrich said. “In the other debates, she showed that empathy on the abortion issue – but all the answers are well worn now.”

DeSantis’ palms are pointed up as he speaks during the fifth Republican presidential debate on Jan. 10, 2024. AFP via Getty Images
DeSantis and Haley take a drink from their cups in different ways during a commercial break at Wednesday’s debate at Drake University. AP

Overall, Ulrich said that neither candidate truly won the debate – at least body language-wise – as both appeared well polished compared to their first appearances – which is to be expected given all of their debate experience.

“We see more polished politicians than when there were eight people on stage,” Ulrich said. “Both projected strength at moments, yet there were moments of weakness.



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