Body language expert makes bold claims about Trump and Pence’s interactions

While Donald Trump has stood in the spotlight throughout his entire presidency (and likely throughout his entire life), Vice President Mike Pence has played a far more low-key role. Well, ok, this is typical for a VPOTUS, but with the Trump/Pence team, we see a more extreme example of this top banana/second banana dynamic play out (although some would argue that the entire administration is bananas). So what’s really going on behind the scenes, though? Is Pence just Trump’s yes-man, there to back up everything the President does and says without question?

Actually, according to one body language expert, you might be really surprised to know what Pence is actually thinking and doing as he subtly attempts to steer the far less experienced politician he works for. Margaret King, the director of think tank Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, took a look at several video clips of Trump and Pence together and broke down for us what the footage seems to be showing.

Mike Pence and Donald Trump revealed differences early on

The Trump/Pence team made their debut in July of 2016, when the Republican candidate announced that he’d selected the Indiana governor to be his running mate — a decision that the party, especially the conservative base, greeted with enthusiasm. A Bloomberg Politics video showing this announcement provided some interesting fodder for our body language expert — King noted that after Trump announced Pence, there was a very quick moment, one you can barely see, that happened just as the camera switched between podiums, showing Pence quickly shaking his head several times. King says this gesture allows us a glimpse into what Pence must have been thinking at the time, something along the lines of “I can’t believe this guy, you never know what’s going to come out of his mouth.”

Mike Pence, the Donald Trump whisperer

An ABC News interview with the two running mates from September of 2016 shows Pence playing Cesar Milan to Trump’s overexcited golden retriever. King says that in their sit-down with anchor David Muir, Pence is already showing that he knows the best method for dealing with Trump. He constantly uses Trump’s name when interrupting him, as the name is what catches Trump’s attention. Pence’s interruption itself has a purpose, that purpose being to ‘back … [Trump] up while at the same time showing who has the better grasp of the situation and the subject under discussion.”

In analyzing the video, King makes a rather startling analogy. She reveals that in order to assert his own (better-informed) views, Pence needs to lavish Trump with praise in a way she says is “not unlike [how] people speak to dogs — “He’s a good boy! He didn’t mean it! He’s always so out in front! We just have to go with this dog in order to keep him under any kind of control!”

Mike Pence doesn't want to be the scapegoat

Fast-forward more than three years and poor Pence is in a tight spot: In a C-Span video from February 2020, he’s just been landed with the thankless job of Coronavirus Point Person. King says she likes the “narrow sideways glance” he gives the president, saying it shows that Pence, as a professional politician (as opposed to Trump, who’s more of a hobbyist in the realm of politics), “knows how the work the press and also disassociate himself from disfavor.” 

She also contrasts Pence’s appearance of paying close attention to the question’s being asked and thinking through a number fo talking points before opening his mouth to Trump “impatiently waiting to be center stage.” She describes the POTUS as “leaning forward, hands clenched, waiting to talk about what he wants to address by impulse,” and compares it to Pence’s more measured approach, concluding: “We are always witnessing the professional versus the perennial amateur.”

Mike Pence may no longer be happy with his role

The most recent clip King broke down for us was Pence’s speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention (via CNN). She says that Pence seems to be very calculatedly playing counterpoint to Trump, acting “the adult Dad to Trump’s prodigal son.” She describes how his playing the straight man with “purposefully constrained gestures” and well-chosen words contrasts starkly with Trump’s “broad gestures and adolescent speech patterns” and clearly demonstrates how the two are “so different in personality and approach to statesmanship.”

King did pick up on some shame or perhaps embarrassment that Pence may be feeling at being associated with Trump’s more outrageous antics. She says the way the VP looked down at times and failed to project some of his statements indicated a reluctance to defend the president and feels it’s clear that Pence “understands he’s there to support a difficult boss, one who can’t be predicted or controlled.” King sums up Pence’s RNC performance as a demonstration of “duty without conviction.”

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