A former FBI agent and body language expert who analyzed the first debate of the 2024 election cycle Wednesday night has revealed which of the Republican candidates appeared the most nervous and who seemed most comfortable.
In an analysis for Politico, nonverbal communication specialist Joe Navarro dished on the “true thoughts and feelings” of each of the eight GOP hopefuls.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 44, was the first candidate to speak — and also perhaps the most nervous, according to Navarro.
“His lips quivered. He also looked almost angry. His voice was forceful and lacked modulation, which made it hard for viewers to distinguish his most important points,” the expert noted.
DeSantis also failed to smile, Navarro said, which “may not have communicated likeability” but underscored his seriousness about key issues.
“His glabella (the space between your eyebrows) furrowed, which along with his emphatic hand gestures expressed his concern,” the former FBI agent surmised.
Meanwhile, the one small grin DeSantis flashed at the end of the night “could make a difference” for on-the-fence supporters, he said.
Unlike DeSantis, biotech honcho Vivek Ramaswamy, 38, was all smiles Wednesday evening, Navarro highlighted.
“[Ramaswamy] consistently looked the most comfortable on stage,” he said.
“Ramaswamy also made repeated use of what’s called a precision grip — with his index finger and thumb making an OK sign — which people use to show that they have command of a topic,” he continued.
When Ramaswamy butted heads with rival Nikki Haley, however, his expression briefly morphed into a more aggressive grimace.
The flash of frustration could be because the Cincinnati native’s gestures intruded on Haley’s space on stage, which is “a violation our brains interpret as threatening,” Navarro speculated.
Haley’s ‘strong will’
Former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 51, came to the Wisconsin stage in battle mode, the body language expert said.
“She tensed her jaw as she spoke, demonstrative of her conviction. Her voice varied more than the other candidates, reflecting a range of nuanced feelings about the complex topics they discussed,” he noted.
Navarro also called Haley’s clash with Ramaswamy over US aid to Ukraine one of the “highlights” of the debate.
“It revealed her strong will, her passion and her years of experience,” he mused.
“Her body language told her opponents that she is not to be trifled with.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, 72, was “genuinely friendly and approachable” on stage, Navarro said.
But while Hutchinson’s “easy smiles” and “unaggressive tones” were camera-friendly, they also prevented him from really diving into the tenser conversations — and thus limited his screen time, the expert speculated.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, 67, was the only candidate who brought a prop to the debate — but it likely didn’t move the needle for voters, Navarro said.
Burgum — who also hobbled to the debate on crutches after tearing an Achilles tendon playing pickup basketball — used a pocket-size copy of the US Constitution to punctuate his points.
However, his “strong” gesture was largely drowned out by the more aggressive stances of the other candidates, Navarro noted.
‘Church pastor’ Scott
Although all the candidates made ample use of gesticulation, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s hand gestures took top prize, the body language expert declared.
“By using a cadence reminiscent of a church pastor, Scott pulled the audience in. He also made special use of wide, palm-up hand gestures, which communicate openness,” he said.
At one point, Scott, 57, even brought his hand to his chest in a universal signal of “emotional sincerity.”
“He comes across as a strong yet approachable man with plenty of gravitas,” Navarro concluded.
Although former Vice President Mike Pence, 64, wields a White House title over the rest of the candidates, his debate performance got off to a slow start, according to Navarro.
“The former vice president was poised, but he started out slow, using small gestures and a relatively soft voice that made him appear subdued,” he said.
As the evening wore on, however, Pence appeared to get more comfortable, and “his gestures became more vigorous, his voice changed in modulation and he used his eyebrows like punctuation marks.”
The most telling moment, Navarro added, was when Pence discussed his defense of the Constitution after Jan. 6 and “his lip pulled dramatically to the left side of his face.”
The gesture revealed “just how emotional” the experience was, Navarro explained.
Pence also made ears perk up when he sparred with Ramaswamy over the state of the “culture wars.”
“Pence’s tightly compressed lips had one unequivocal message: You are wrong,” Navarro surmised.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 60, had his debate dukes up, Navarro said.
“His gestures were well measured, giving him a sense of calm, and he spoke in a modulated tone that commanded attention. His posture was confident and relaxed,” he said of the Garden State native, who elicited boos when he demanded the nation “stop normalizing” rival Donald Trump’s behavior.
Christie also “used his laser-like eyes” to his advantage, Navarro continued.
Throughout the evening, Christie was “narrowing his eyelids to emphasize his message and arching his eyebrows to intensify his words,” the expert explained.
Navarro also analyzed how each GOP candidate responded when Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked if they would support former President Trump, 77, if he was convicted in any of his four criminal cases.
“Speed of response is often emblematic of how much we care about a subject,” Navarro explained.
Ramaswamy’s hand was the first to go up, he said, followed by Haley, Scott and Burgum.
DeSantis and Christie waffled, with the former eventually putting his own hand up while the latter wagged a finger.
Hutchinson, however, “refused” to raise his hand — a perhaps daring move that led to his scathing critique of Trump, which drew boos from the crowd.