2011 Archives

GOP debate gets physical in Las Vegas

Perry, Romney and the "Johnson Treatment"


The following is from the Oct. 19, 2011, edition of WFAA-TV News. SMU Communications Studies Professor Rita Kirk, director of the University's Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, provided expertise for this story.

October 20, 2011


It started with a verbal attack by Rick Perry, followed by Mitt Romney's mocking laugh. Seconds later, the GOP debate in Las Vegas Tuesday night got physical.

It is that body language making headlines 24 hours later.

About 30 minutes into the debate, Romney reached out to put his hand on Perry's shoulder, to tell him to be quiet.

"It could be considered by many to be a demeaning moment where he was literally saying here, 'I'm in charge and control and I'm going to take care of you,'" explained Rita Kirk, director of SMU's ethics center.

Kirk is often hired by networks to analyze and monitor audience reaction at political debates.

Even though Romney may not know it, she says his invasion of Perry's personal space is a rather famous presidential tactic.

"It's often referred to as the 'Johnson treatment,' because Lyndon Johnson would get in your face and he would push people back," Kirk said. "And there are some great photos from where people were backed against a wall or backed across a desk."

Read the full story and watch the video.

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