Trump, Biden and the Tough Guy, Nice Guy Politics of 2020

A decade later, when the younger Bush ran against John Kerry, he took a similar tack: He taunted his opponent for speaking French and painted him as an out-of-touch aristocrat even as he tried to present himself as a “war president.”

“This happens all the time,” said Tristan Bridges, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the co-editor of the journal, Men and Masculinities. “One guy presents himself as a kind of salt of the earth, a person you could hang out with, and then effectively emasculates the other by presenting them as the opposite.”

“I think the performance of masculinity means a lot,” he noted, “because it has the potential to eclipse all else.”

One notable performance, Mr. Bridges said, was in 1840, when William Henry Harrison, a presidential newcomer, relentlessly pilloried the incumbent, Martin Van Buren (“Marty,” as he called him) as “effeminate and obsequious.”

Harrison won by a landslide, but there was a twist. He delivered the longest inauguration speech on record, on a cold day in Washington in the middle of winter, and refused to wear a coat. Three weeks later, Harrison fell ill with pneumonia. He was dead a month into his term.

Not wearing a coat — or, say, a candidate rolling up his sleeves when talking with voters — are small contests with dignity, said Mr. Bridges. But they can have big consequences.

Ms. Dittmar, the author of a book on stereotypes in political strategy, explained it this way: Political strategy 101 involves paying attention to what voters want in a candidate. They look at polling data, and inevitably hear words like “tough” and “strong,” or issues like “national security.” The words in and of themselves are not gendered, and yet, have historically been associated with men — and often, certain types of men.