scorecardRon DeSantis has been described as having the 'personality of a piece of paper.' That can be fixed, etiquette and dating experts say.
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Ron DeSantis has been described as having the 'personality of a piece of paper.' That can be fixed, etiquette and dating experts say.

Lloyd Lee   

Ron DeSantis has been described as having the 'personality of a piece of paper.' That can be fixed, etiquette and dating experts say.
PoliticsPolitics5 min read
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is on the campaign trail, seeking to interact with more potential voters.
  • Critics have pointed out that the governor can be awkward while talking with people.

When it comes to policy matters, folks close to Gov. Ron DeSantis may say he can talk at length about the issues he's most passionate about.

"He's extremely knowledgeable about every single issue that I teed up to him. I mean, there was no issue he couldn't go ten-deep," Megyn Kelly, who recently had dinner with the Florida governor, said on her show.

But on the campaign trail, DeSantis has been repeatedly snubbed for what critics describe as his "lack of personality."

When mingling with supporters, the governor might meander about how late the hour is; tell a child there's too much sugar in an ICEE; and, in general, appear as if he's internally suffering at the thought of having more human interaction.

"I describe him as having the personality of a piece of paper," a former congressional staffer told Vanity Fair last year.

Personality may not necessarily dictate a candidate's ability to lead. But DeSantis's charisma factor — and perceived lack of it — is often held up against his most significant opponent, Donald Trump, a trained TV personality who relishes in political theater.

"I think, particularly for politicians, they have a job to do that they just want to do, but they're forced into doing things that are perhaps not always natural for them," Julia Esteve Boyd, an etiquette expert who has worked with UK politicians and Emirati royalty, told Insider. "But when you're a public persona, this is part of the job."

Experts well-versed in the art of charm, like Esteve Boyd, said that even if DeSantis is portrayed as a chronic etiquette violator, the governor is not a lost cause.

"Etiquette really is a set of skills that you can choose to use when and where you'd like," Maggie Oldham, who has taught etiquette for more than ten years, told Insider. "These things can all be taught, practiced, and perfected."

The DeSantis campaign team did not respond to a request for comment on this story sent outside of business hours.

Recently, social media users tore apart a one-minute clip of DeSantis having a beer with supporters at a campaign event in Iowa, in which he can be heard asking about the time and then awkwardly trying to compliment the state.

"One thing I noticed right off the bat was he tends to be very nervous," Oldham said. "It seems like he is very nervous when he's trying to converse."

Etiquette experts say the key to calming nerves in social interactions is for the speaker to stop thinking about how they will be perceived and focus on the other person.

"People will come and take my Science of Small Talk Class and they'll say, 'I'm always so nervous in these situations when I'm meeting new people … I wanna be funny; I wanna be likable; I don't know what to say.' And what I say to them is, 'Do you hear the word that you're using most? It's 'I,'" Oldham said. "People are so concerned about how they're going to come across. When really, we can take all that pressure off of ourselves and make ourselves more confident naturally by placing your focus on the other person."

Esteve Boyd echoed the advice, saying that when "dealing with the public, it's always quite good to focus on them rather than yourself."

Blaine Anderson, a dating coach for men, told Insider that many of the same principles in social interactions apply whether it's dating or running for president.

"He's at an event with people who are there supporting him and excited to be there, so talking about how he doesn't normally stay up late isn't exactly forming a connection with them," Anderson said.

To make that connection, Anderson suggested talking about things that are relatable to the people.

"So they're in Iowa … he does kind of segue to that. Why not open with that?" she said. "Like, 'I love Iowa. This is my first time.' or 'This is my 10th time here and it never gets old.' It's sharing something about yourself that the people can relate to."

In addition, experts noted that DeSantis should maintain more prolonged eye contact with the people he's speaking with and not worry about who he will talk to next.

Critics have also picked apart DeSantis's eating habits. Earlier this year, sources told the Daily Beast that DeSantis was caught eating pudding with three fingers. (DeSantis denied the incident occurred.)

In general, the governor would sit in meetings and eat "always like a starving animal who has never eaten before … getting shit everywhere," a former DeSantis staffer told the publication.

"If you cannot manage your own eating properly, respectfully, correctly, what kind of message is that conveying about how you're going to run the country?" Oldham said. "People don't wanna hear that, but it's true. If you're handling yourself sloppily, you're subliminally communicating that you will handle other affairs sloppily."

Esteve Boyd acknowledged that table manners are often mocked and overlooked but argued that it's just as important as any other social interaction because people always judge the other individual.

"You might silently judge people on how they eat, how they behave at the table. We form an opinion on that person based on how they behave," she said.

There's nothing wrong with snacking during casual interactions or in a business meeting, Esteve Boyd said, though she suggests being more "discreet" and taking "smaller bites."

One larger liability former GOP colleagues, donors, and former staff members have pointed out in Vanity Fair's profile of the governor is DeSantis's arrogance.

A former baseball teammate from DeSantis' alma mater, Yale University, told The New Yorker, "Ron is the most selfish person I have ever interacted with" and that "he was the biggest dick we knew."

The governor has also been criticized for forgetting to say "thank you" to donors, failing to learn his staffers' names, and not saying "hi" to a fellow GOP colleague.

All three experts Insider spoke to agreed that his reported sense of self-importance should be checked on the campaign trail.

Anderson said that DeSantis is the guest of honor at these public outings but that the "whole point of these events is to create a personal connection with people."

"Listen more," Esteve Boyd said. "Let people speak, let people ask questions. It's about the other people as opposed to all being about you, the biggest person in the room, because you're already the biggest person in the room."

Oldham said people like to "feel special and important." She shared a similar idea as Esteve Boyd but worded her perspective a bit differently.

"DeSantis needs to remember that, when he's on the campaign trail, he is not the most important person in the room," she said. "He's not even president yet. So he's certainly not the most important person in the room. The donors and voters are."