Editor’s note: Communications expert Ruth Sherman was interviewed by The Washington Post, Time.com, Sirius XM and WCBS-TV about Republican and Democratic debates earlier this fall. Here, she offers her views on the Oct. 28 debate taking place in Boulder.
By Ruth Sherman
Donald Trump: Still center stage (literally and figuratively), Trump has been able to get by so far with general statements about how he would do certain things, change others, and increase America’s greatness—or retrieve it, which is what his slogan, “Make America Great Again,” implies. It would behoove Trump to 1) speak with more details to show he has command of facts, and 2) be careful not to lob gratuitous insults, as people are tiring of that part of his style.
Ben Carson: Carson should dial down the extreme comments he’s become known for the past few weeks, especially comparisons with Nazis and fascists and any comments about Muslims and Islam. He can express an opinion, but it should be based on facts vs. feelings. He all needs much higher energy. This is not an operating room, it’s a stage, and a public, high-stakes one at that. It requires a performance that will help people imagine him in the Oval Office.
Jeb Bush: Bush has got to get his lack of fluency under control. Fluency in this context refers how thoughts translate to statements. Some people are naturally more fluent than others. Unfortunately for Bush, it is not a strength for him. Practicing more than he has so far should help him. In addition, Bush has a fantastic speaking voice. If his words seem to flow, the voice will do the rest.
Carly Fiorina: The best communicator and public speaker of the bunch, by far, Fiorina has to prop up her numbers again. She’s been able to do that in each of the past two debates, and I expect she’ll bring the fight to this one as well. One area she has been weak is in fact-checking. Obfuscation only goes so far. If she wants to be taken seriously, she should make sure she’s got her facts (mostly) correct. Politics ain’t business and it certainly ain’t a game.
Marco Rubio: Rubio is extremely smooth in his statements and communication, with a seeming command of foreign policy. He’s a pleasure to listen to. He’s incredibly articulate, with a good speaking voice and crisp diction. He’s able to connect the dots for people on tough issues. One of his problems is that he looks young—so young it’s difficult for him to display gravitas, leading to a disconnect. There are things he can do to be physically commanding, including making sure his posture is good, leaning in when speaking, and using gestures and other body language to communicate confidence and authority.
Mick Huckabee: Huckabee used to be the folksy evangelical, whose humor and use of metaphors and other rhetorical devices made him likable and entertaining, even if voters didn’t agree with his views. Years on talk radio seem to have hardened him to a point where he now seems mean-spirited. He should reclaim the old Mike and give voters a reason to give him another look.
Chris Christie: Straight-talking Christie hasn’t been able to break through yet, even though his performance at the last debate was pretty good. He was assertive without being aggressive. He significantly toned down his famous bullying style. He was even likable. It hasn’t helped him enough to lift his poll numbers, but I think he should keep it up, which may help him secure a spot in a GOP cabinet. Of course, if he’s challenged on anything that’s been going on in New Jersey, which he hasn’t been to date, he’d better be ready.
John Kasich: Kasich is a pretty good communicator. Of all of them, the label “compassionate conservative” fits best with him. In the first debate, he had a good amount of time to get noticed; in the second debate, not so much. He’ll have to find ways to insert himself into the conversation more, so he has a chance to remind viewers of his capabilities and thinking.
Rand Paul: Paul comes across as reasonable and temperate. He just never seems like he’s getting any enjoyment out of this or having any fun. If I were to pinpoint his biggest weakness, it would be his lack of humor. If he can generate a few laughs, not take himself—or the situation—so seriously, he might be able to stay in the race a little longer.
Ted Cruz: Cruz must guard against the current meme surrounding him that he is unlikable. A little well-placed humor would suit him. Of all of them, he is the one I think people would least want to have a beer with, and if the voters don’t want that, you cannot be elected.
Ruth Sherman is a CEO and strategic communications consultant. She has worked with an A-list roster of clients, among them Deloitte, Apple, JP Morgan, Timex, Universal/Focus Features, Paramount, Versace International, and a host of others. Her focus is on preparing business leaders, celebrities, politicians and entrepreneurs for critical public communication opportunities including the development and delivery of keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, awards presentations and political campaigns. A former faculty member of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University, Sherman has coached hundreds of candidates running for office.