Trump's signature move: The 'meh' shrug

The first debate night in three minutes: Trump edition
The first debate night in three minutes: Trump edition

Donald Trump already has a signature hairstyle, a signature real estate brand and even a signature way of firing people.

Now he's developing a trademark move on the 2016 campaign trail: The Trump shrug.

When Trump is pressed hard by a journalist or heckler, he often throws his arms out, shrugs his shoulders and gives a "meh" look.

With the shrug, Trump is communicating "Do you know who I am? Who are you?" says Larry Sabato, a long-time political analyst and director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. He wants people to know who is in charge.

His followers love it. Trump is still leading the GOP polls.

But "people in the anti-Trump camp see it as condescending," says Barbara Tannenbaum, a professor of public speaking and persuasive communications at Brown University.

trump shrug gif new

The First Debate

Trump used the shrug in the first GOP debate when Fox News host Megyn Kelly pushed him about his views on women. She quoted his past remarks, such as telling a Celebrity Apprentice contestant "it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees."

He responded with the "so what shrug" and then proceeded to say the big problem in America is that the country is too worried about being politically correct. It was an effective tactic to shift gears. The audience clapped loudly after his answer.

That particular exchange between Kelly and Trump has become the most talked about and analyzed part of the debate, leading to special follow up interviews with Trump on CNN and Fox.

While Trump is ahead in the polls, his support did fall slightly after the debate. A Suffolk University poll found that 55% of those who watched it said they were less comfortable with him as a candidate for president now.

Trump vs. Reagan

Trump isn't the first Republican presidential hopeful to utilize a shrug with the press. Ronald Reagan also used the move.

"Reagan had a much more effective shrug," says Sabato. "He would tilt his head an shake it a bit and say 'Well...' to buy him a few seconds to think of an answer."

Ronald Reagan B&W

Trump has been criticized for being a recent convert to the Republican party and for refusing to pledge not to run as an independent if he doesn't get the nomination. Trump often combats those critiques by pointing out that Reagan started out as a Democrat.

But Reagan had a distinctly different style. He came across as a grandfather type, says Tannenbuam. Reagan's shrug "would have been seen as more of a 'golly shucks'" gesture.

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