Americans are not stupid. Many of them are ignorant, some are bigoted, most are inattentive to public affairs, but they are not stupid. They are quite as good as Germans, Chinese, Bulgarians, Brazilians, or Vietnamese at sizing people up and reading their self-presentations and body language. If we abstract from such arcana as policies and just concentrate on how people respond to those seeking a party's presidential nomination, we can, I suggest, gain some understanding of the polls with which we are inundated.
Why is Trump trouncing all of his opponents by double digits in polls of Republican voters these days? Well, lean back, veg out, turn off the higher functions of your intellect, and just watch him on the tube. He is clearly having fun! He loves being on the podium, draws energy from the crowds, jokes, laughs, sneers in turn. He is playful, he cannot get enough of it. Once on stage, he does not want to leave. He is having fun. And everyone who watches him can feel it.
What about his rivals? Jeb Bush is diffident, uncomfortable, ruminative. His body and his voice both say that he would really rather be elsewhere. He acts frustrated with reporters' questions. Trump says he is a low energy guy, and Trump is right. We can all feel it. Jeb does not act as though he is having fun.
Scott Walker acts as though he has never had fun his entire life. Just glance at his face as you are on the way to the refrigerator for a power drink. He is morose, discomfited, a real Eeyore. Cruz is stuck-up, the annoying kid in the class who thinks he is smarter than everyone else. Christie is a fat bully. Fiorina is a scold. Paul is petulant. Santorum is the repressed prig who pretends never to have masturbated. And Jindal is just weird.
These are not political judgments or ideological evaluations. They are gut reactions -- the sort we all have every day when we meet people. This is how the public sizes up candidates, and I have to say, their reactions are pretty shrewd. [The fact that they are also politically disastrous is a subject for another post.]
What about the Democrats? Clinton is irritated. She is irritated by reporters' gotcha questions that ignore her carefully crafted policy papers. She is irritated by the hoofaraw surrounding her e-mails when she knows that her motives are as pure as the driven snow. She is irritated that she must work for a nomination that was hers for the asking six months ago. In front of a crowd, her body and face say that she is doing her duty. She smiles a lot and gives full-throated laughs from time to time, but she is clearly not having fun. She never seems to want to stay on the podium just a little while longer, and then a little while longer still. She is utterly unlike her husband, who never saw a group of people he did not want to rub up against and charm.
Bernie is angry. It is a righteous anger, a policy-driven anger, but it is anger nonetheless. He is the only candidate in either party who actually cares more about his policies than he does about getting elected. He is the most earnest candidate to have come along since Adlai Stevenson. Bernie probably could have fun if the world were ever what it ought to be, but right now there is no time for having fun. Be serious! his body language says.
Joe Biden is always having fun. Put him in front of a crowd and his face lights up. If he could patent that and sell it to Clinton, it would be worth every penny she has raised from her rich friends. She would win in a landslide.
Which of these folks would be a good president? Ah well, that is quite another matter. When it comes to answering that question, I do not have quite so much faith in the Great American Public.