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Can cosmetics turn an election? In Twitter-centric, Instagram-focused, YouTube-driven presidential politics you never know.
Marco Rubio has a Nixonian Beard problem. His five o’clock shadow is present at all hours during network interviews – in HD no less. In the nation’s very first televised presidential debate in 1960 Richard Nixon declined to use makeup and knowledgeable observers, including the TV director Don Hewitt, said the shadow might have cost Nixon the election.
John Kasich leans to the right. Not just in politics; when Kasich speaks he actually cocks his head, and sometimes the upper half of his torso, several degrees to the right. Watching him makes you think you’re in one of those funhouse rooms where everything is tilted so you don’t know which way is up.
Hillary Clinton reminds some voters of the “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry dates a woman who looks dramatically different depending on the lighting. Few candidates are so reliant on good TV lighting as Hillary. Plus, appearing in the recent PBS debate in a gold top made from State Department draperies was a poor choice.
Donald Trump’s hair captivates cartoonists, but in debates it’s his overly-whitened teeth that really stand out. If money can buy the straightest, brightest teeth, then Trump’s fortune has made him frontrunner in the dental field.
Bernie Sanders, like Trump, is loud. But lately Sanders is suffering through too many bouts of hoarse coughing in debates – a definite distraction. As for style points, Bernie’s ill-fitting suits would make him a laughingstock among conservatives, but in the eyes of progressives he’s got a rock star look.
Sanders and Trump also share a New Yorkism that grates on some listeners: beginning many statements by telling you, “I will tell you...”
Ben Carson doesn’t know what to do with his hands. Trump is a finger wagger; Rubio is a podium pounder; Sanders and Clinton are arm wavers. But Carson awkwardly clasps his hands, almost as if praying for divine guidance about a satisfactory answer.
Jeb Bush flip-flopped on accessories so often he finally had to quit the race. He tossed his signature wire-rimmed glasses – a daring campaign calculation. He also flipped on shirts and ties, appearing with a smallish knot one day and a overly fat Windsor knot the next. He was equally unpredictable when it came to spread collars versus button-downs. As Republicans always point out, Ronald Reagan never waffled on shirts and ties.
Chris Christie will be missed. Alone among Republicans, he knew how to turn to the camera during debates and speak directly to the viewing audience. Unfortunately, when cameras caught him in wide shots from the side, it was not a pretty picture.
Christie has a lambdacism -- difficulty with the letter L -- which haunted him as he sought to twist every debate answer to include “Hillary Clinton.”
Ted Cruz favors straight talk, but happens to have a crooked mouth. Although he leans heavily right, his lip curls up on his left, a look favored by actors portraying villains. At least Cruz doesn’t have a mustache to twirl while speaking.
That’s the raw data. What we need now are pollsters, pundits, surrogates and dial-twisting focus groups to remind us this is uncharted territory and therefore we can’t be sure what it means.
Peter Funt can be reached at