What Donald Trump's Body Language Revealed At The Last Debate, According To An Expert

At the first presidential debate for the 2020 election, both President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden were fired up, talking over each other and basically bickering more than debating. It was an adventure, to say the least. After the second debate was canceled, the American people were left wondering not only if the third debate would happen but how much of a fight it would be. 

The rematch did happen on Oct. 22, 2020, and dare we say, it felt a bit peaceful in comparison to the first debate. The final debate before the election, which took place at Belmont University in Nashville, saw both President Trump and former Vice President Biden discussing topics such as racism in America, COVID-19, climate change, and more. 

Unlike the first debate, both candidates more willingly answered in turn and respected the other while they were speaking. Part of that was due to their microphones being muted when they were out of time, but nevertheless, the debate was civil. You can always count on President Trump's gesticulations while he's speaking, though, and this debate was no different. We gathered insight from a body language expert to get a professional's take on President Trump's performance.

Donald Trump's body language shows 'extreme disdain' for Joe Biden

Alison Henderson, a body language expert at Moving Image Consulting LLC, told Nicki Swift that President Donald Trump's body language at the Oct. 22, 2020, debate was his usual. "Overall, he used less pressure than in the first debate perhaps in an attempt to be less combative than what we saw in the first debate," she said. Henderson thinks Trump looked like he'd been coached, especially at the beginning of the debate, when he appeared to show restraint. 

Henderson pointed out that President Trump frequently uses an accordion-like hand movement and shared insight on what it could mean. "He continued his open palm movement throughout the debate in his 'I have nothing to hide' signal," she said. "Often, he did this move with shrinking his shoulders and tightening his body when he brought his hands to his center. This can undermine the truth signal by giving the signal that he is shrinking away from his words."

Henderson also noted that President Trump chose to speak to former Vice President Joe Biden rather than to the camera — and the people viewing at home. She said she also believes the way Trump addresses Biden has a particularly strong meaning. "Wiggles through his body show his real feelings of extreme disdain for Biden when Biden is speaking. He stands with his head cocked to the side, looking down his nose at Biden to come across as superior."

Donald Trump used pointing to maintain control

Body language expert Alison Henderson of Moving Image Consulting LLC believes President Donald Trump was "slightly less forceful" than at the first presidential debate in September 2020. However, a noticeable tactic that he used throughout the second and final debate was pointing. He pointed at both former Vice President Joe Biden and moderator Kristen Welker multiple times and seemed to use the gesture to "get more time to speak and to speak over the moderator." According to Henderson, Trump also "used an open right palm hand gesture," which is "perceived as pushing back."

"Overall, President Trump has a low variety of gestures," Henderson noted. "He mainly moves his arms in front of him in and out or uses his right hand to gesture up and down with pointing." She added, "Few movements can be perceived either as calm or as hiding something. The palms in and out continually is usually a deflecting movement." (For instance, when he argued he's "done more for the Black community" than any president since Abraham Lincoln.)

Donald Trump's body language changed when his tax returns came up

President Donald Trump's body language changed completely when Joe Biden mentioned the president's tax returns and his lack of transparency during the final presidential debate on Oct. 22, 2020. Body language expert Alison Henderson noticed that Trump returned to "[s]hifts and wiggles" when the topic was brought up, adding that when "he became uncomfortable, he smiled to himself with pursed lips." 

She also pointed out that "[t]his may also be a leaked facial gesture because he showed it only two or three times." Later on in the debate, Henderson noted that Trump "became a bit more emotional and raised his tempo," as well as "sped up his movements and rate of speech when he started mocking Biden." An example of this is when Trump called Biden a "typical politician" after the former vice president addressed middle class American families by speaking directly to the camera. Trump added, "I'm not a typical politician — that's why I got elected."