Body language politics: Most women won’t vote for an intimidating creep

    Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

    Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

    The demagogue is circling the drain, sucking the Republicans down with him. For this welcome development, we owe a major debt of gratitude to women — specifically, white college-educated women. The demagogue repulses them, and they’re jonesing to sink him.

    They’ve long been a core Republican constituency, and their electoral power has strengthened as their numbers have steadily grown. But they’re one of the big reasons why Hillary Clinton has opened a double-digit lead in two new national surveys.

    According to a poll released today by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, partnering with The Atlantic magazine, Clinton leads Trump by 11 points. Two weeks ago, the same poll showed them tied. The most stunning stat: white college-educated women support Clinton over Trump, 68 to 29 percent. It’s unprecedented that a Democrat would be favored at all; the margin boggles the mind.

    Donald Trump has turned them off in all the detestable ways we know so well — topped by his audiotaped boasts about entitled sexual assault. But the second presidential debate on Sunday night gave them fresh ammo. It wasn’t necessarily about anything Trump said. It was about the way Trump moved on stage — like a creepy stalker bent on intimidation.

    If you didn’t notice what Trump did with his body language — creeping within a few feet of Clinton’s backside while she was speaking, crowding her from behind in a bid to assert dominance — then you’re probably a man. But millions of women noticed it. Heck, some of us men noticed it, too. David Brooks, the center-right columnist, assails Trump for “looming over her menacingly like a mafioso thug on the precipice of a hit.”

    Optics matter. All his lies and gibberish aside, women saw what he was doing — and they related it to their own lives. They tweeted about it in real time. I don’t claim to know whether the tweeters were Democrats or Republicans. But rest assured that the expressed sentiments cross partisan lines.

    For instance: “Trying to get s–t done while a man lurks disapprovingly behind you pretty much sums up womanhood.” And: “Interesting to see Donald Trump do live onstage what so many women have reported — getting in your space, trying to physically intimidate you.” And: “He’s hovering like a dude who bought you a single drink at the club.” And: “Watching this as a woman is so emotionally difficult because we’ve all been belittled like this by a male moron and had to take it.” And: “Hillary is every woman who has conscientiously prepared only to be patronized by some entitled, ignorant jerk.” And: “Trump’s standing behind her is a bullying tactic. Abusive men do this to us all the time.” And: “Every woman watching has had a creepy dude pace behind her.”

    Body language experts confirmed those perceptions. Ruth Sherman, a specialist in the field of “proxemics” — the way people communicate using physical space — interprets Trump’s debate physicality as “a conscious assertion of power …. The proximity to Clinton with which he stood behind her at certain points was particularly threatening.” Another expert, Robin Kermode, says: “Crowding someone’s space, or lurking, is commonly used by bullies as a tactic to make someone cower and feel defensive.”

    Another expert, Nick Morgan, says that Clinton trumped the tactic by ignoring it: “What he’s trying to do there, whether consciously or unconsciously, is distract her, and she does very well by continuing to focus on the questioner and answer the question. His lurking behind her is, I believe, an attempt to intimidate, but the result is it doesn’t have any effect on her.”

    Actually, lest we forget, Republican women were fleeing Trump before the Sunday debate. For many, Friday’s repugnant audiotape was the last straw.

    Kristen Mayock, a long-serving party official in normally Republican-leaning Chester County, in the Philadelphia suburbs, emailed Politico on Saturday: “Trump’s comments are simply indefensible. I am hopeful that our intelligent voters in the county recognize that we have some incredibly qualified and dedicated candidates running down ticket.” (Translation: Dump Trump for the sake of the party.)

    Trump’s on-stage stalking simply made matters worse. And Michael Gerson, a former top aide to George W. Bush, sees the big picture in his latest column: “Trump’s debate performance was appalling, contemptible, shameful, squalid, vile.” Whether Trump realizes it or not, the national electorate “actually includes … women who don’t like disgusting boors.” All told, Trump’s performance was bad enough “to continue his slide toward major defeat.”

    Yup. Because even though Trump relentlessly lies, his body language doesn’t.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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