Debunking Hillary Clinton’s claim that Trump was ‘literally breathing down my neck’ and ‘repeatedly invading’ her space at debate
An excerpt of Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming election memoir What Happened emerged Wednesday. In it, Clinton revisits the second presidential debate held on October 9, 2016, at Washington University in St. Louis. She makes some sensational claims about how her opponent made her feel that night, just a couple of days after the infamous “grab them by the pussy” Access Hollywood video had been leaked. There’s no way to dispute what she said she felt during the 90-minute event, but what can be disputed are some of the claims she makes about Trump “looming” over her, following her around and “literally breathing down” her neck.
It’s important to take a look at Clinton’s exact words, so here’s a portion of the excerpt:
“This is not OK, I thought. It was the second presidential debate and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled. It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching, well, what would you do? Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly, ‘back up you creep, get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.’”
OK, let’s check the video beginning at the 25:18 mark of this NBC News recording of the complete debate to examine the moment Clinton describes in her excerpt. Watch below and notice that it was actually Clinton who invaded Trump’s space. After a question about health care was posed by an audience member seated near Trump’s chair, Clinton walked over, stood in front of Trump and answered the question. At no point is Trump “looming behind” Clinton. He’s taller and the camera angle from the front of Clinton made it appear a little bit like he was looming, but a side angle shows that there is at least a few feet between Trump and Clinton.
“No matter where I walked, he followed me closely,” Clinton says in the book. Not during that exchange. And it didn’t look like Trump was making any attempt to breath down her neck. Watch the clip below beginning at the 25:18 mark.
Trump certainly didn’t “follow” her during any other exchanges. Maybe something “uncomfortable” happened later in the debate? A few moments later, Clinton walked into Trump’s space again to deliver her answer — even though the question had come from Anderson Cooper and not an audience member seated over by Trump’s side of the stage. Go to the 29:50 mark and watch the clip below.
About two minutes later, Clinton strolls over into Trump’s territory a third time when another question is asked by an audience member on that side. Trump walks around behind his chair and leans his hands on the back of it as Clinton delivers her answer. Again, there was no following of Clinton and he stayed several feet away from Clinton as she spoke. However, by that point, an argument could be made that Clinton was following Trump. She had walked over into his space three times within a span of about 10 minutes. It’s at least fair to ask, in light of Clinton’s accusations against Trump: Who was following whom? After Clinton completed her answer, she returned to her side of the debate stage. Watch the clip beginning at the 34:55 mark.
When the next question was asked of Clinton by debate co-moderator Martha Raddatz, Clinton walked over to Trump’s side of the debate stage for a fourth time. This time Trump actually backed away, giving Clinton a little more space — the opposite of the accusations Clinton makes in her book excerpt. He then remained behind his chair, resting a hand on it during Clinton’s response. By that point of the debate, it’s possible Clinton had been deploying a strategy aimed at baiting Trump into an altercation by continually walking into his space. Maybe — maybe not. Watch beginning at the 39:26 mark.
At about the 51-minute mark of the debate, Anderson Cooper told Clinton she had two minutes to answer a question, and Clinton promptly walked over into Trump’s space before the question was even finished being asked. That was the fifth time in a span of roughly 25 minutes that Clinton had journeyed over to Trump’s side of the stage. Once again, Trump actually moved away from Clinton, moving behind his chair and then inching himself further away, providing her with more space to deliver her response. At that point of the debate, Trump had not crossed over and visited Clinton’s side of the stage, so Clinton’s claims that Trump “followed” here everywhere she went completely fall apart under scrutiny. Watch beginning at the 50:55 mark below.
At approximately the 1-hour, 9-minute mark of the debate, a question comes from an audience member seated on Hillary Clinton’s side of the stage. The question is for Trump, so he’s given the chance to answer first and, presumably, to walk to the other side of the stage to more closely address the audience member who posed a question, as Clinton had repeatedly done. But at no point during his answer did Trump venture over to Clinton’s side of the stage. The closest he came to doing so was when he approached the very center of the stage as he neared the end of his answer, as the clip below shows. Watch beginning at the 1:09:25 mark.
A thorough review of the full debate recording shows that Trump never “loomed behind” Clinton. At times, the camera angle created a sense that Trump was looming in the background, but that’s really a function of the height differential between the two candidates and the production techniques networks use to shoot debates. The same phenomenon was observed with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and the other way around with both candidates in 2012. As far as Clinton’s claim that “no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces” goes, a review of the debate provides no supporting evidence of such a claim. If anything, Clinton followed Trump around. The two seemed to stare at each other while the other was speaking as is customary during political debates, though Trump, while Clinton was talking often looked away as though he wasn’t paying attention. In terms of face-making, the two candidates seemed to be even in that department and didn’t engage in face-making any more than past candidates have done during debates. Moreover, Trump never even left his side of the stage.
The conclusion, then, is that Clinton is largely fabricating this story and rewriting history. Trump was thoroughly excoriated by the media for rewriting history with his remarks on his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville at his rally in Phoenix on Tuesday. Clinton is guilty of at least the same in this instance, if not more. The reason she didn’t say to Trump “back up you creep, get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women but you can’t intimidate me, so back up,” is because her personal space, or at least the reasonable expectation of personal space, wasn’t being invaded by Trump, as she suggested.
Why Clinton is playing the sexism card again, given that doing so failed her during the campaign, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps she’s trying to stay relevant. Or perhaps she’s just pandering to the false narrative the media has developed in recent years: That everything can be blamed on sexism.
Below, listen to a clip of Clinton reading the excerpt from her book. And for the rest of your news, return to the Page One homepage.