Republican Debate Has Candidates Seeing Red


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The Republicans held their last debate on Tuesday, where seven out of the nine candidates came wearing red.

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Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

The nine Republicans running for their party’s presidential nomination didn’t agree on much during Tuesday’s main debate (other than the fact that any of them would be a better leader than Hillary Clinton), but on one thing, there was surprising near unanimity: seven of the nine came armed for battle in red.

Donald J. Trump, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida all wore matching ensembles of blazing red tie and single-breasted two-button dark suit, the first time all six have been on the same sartorial page at the same time. Meanwhile, Carly Fiorina wore a red skirt suit for the first time since she joined the prime-time group.

The lone holdouts were Dr. Ben Carson — who has been making independent statements via his neckwear choices (polka dots! blue! print!) pretty much since the beginning of the race — and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, whose light blue matched his folksy rhetoric and pretty much faded into the background.

Red ties have become increasingly popular among the candidates since the first debate, when only three of them (Mr. Trump, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Paul) wore red. By the fourth debate, however, there was a definite quorum, and Tuesday night majority ruled.

It made for an interesting visual message.

Before you get all worked up about why this matters, remember that while clearly the verbal messages are more important, the consensus is worth considering — given that little happens on the debate stage by accident if it is in any way controllable (like, for example, clothing), that there are numerous staff members who have pondered the effects of every choice, and that it is all geared toward convincing viewers that Candidate X is the person for the job.

Seems to me this was a clear bid for the traditional wing of the Republican Party, not just because red is the official party shade, but because the red-tie-dark-suit combination has been enshrined as a kind of power uniform since the Reagan administration. President Reagan’s name was, not coincidentally, also invoked numerous times, but if you missed those moments, the clothes made the connection, too.

It was less Tea Party than Grand Old Party; not about being “modern” or a different kind of Republican, but being recognizably Republican.

And there’s the whole red-is-the-symbol-of-war/anger/toughness color psychology side of things, which is a little reductive and basic. But then, the small screen does not necessarily reward subtlety.

And don’t forget: The red tie, white shirt, dark blue suit is a particularly patriotic, if hackneyed, combination.

The downside — that matching outfits made the seven candidates resemble nothing so much as a political conga line — was presumably deemed an acceptable risk.

But it does make comparisons almost impossible to ignore and points up the fact that the details make the difference.

Mr. Rubio’s tie, for example, was precisely knotted at his throat, at least in comparison to Mr. Bush’s more laggardly knot, which telegraphed a certain, now familiar, discomfort with the whole exercise; Mr. Cruz’s tightly wound version; and Mr. Christie’s, which was visibly off-center.

As for Mr. Trump, in part because unlike most of his fellow candidates, he did not button his suit jacket, thus both breaking a basic rule of debate style (you button the jacket to create a neat shoulder line) and calling attention to the flag around his neck, the sheer size of his tie seemed to, well, trump the rest.



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