John Bolton and the tricky politics of the mustache

Soon after Donald Trump passed over bristle-brush-stached former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton as his pick for secretary of state, the Washington Post quoted an anonymous Trump associate speculating as to why the president-elect may have done so: “Donald was not going to like that mustache. … I can’t think of anyone that’s really close to Donald that has a beard that he likes.” Trump, another unnamed source with knowledge of the transition team’s thinking said, is “very aesthetic.”

But Rebekah Herrick, a professor of political science at Oklahoma State University, couldn’t help thinking that Trump, as superficially concerned as he may be with pure physical appearance, might have intuited some of her academic research. Herrick published a scholarly article in April 2015 titled, “Why Beards and Mustaches are Rare for Modern Politicians.” She had been curious how a controllable physical feature like facial hair—as opposed to, say, height or complexion—could impact one’s perceived fitness for elected political office. So she’d compared the ways that students at Oklahoma State reacted to paired pictures of bewhiskered and baby-faced members of Congress. Among her paper’s conclusions: “Male politicians may need to think strategically before they put away their razors, especially if they are concerned about attracting women voters. Our experiments certainly suggest that such voters are likely to stereotype bearded or mustachioed candidates as more masculine and less supportive of feminist policies, but less inclined to deploy force.”

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