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Debate prep video is a lesson in how to avoid a hug from Trump

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump shake hands after the second presidential debate, in St. Louis, Mo., on Oct. 9, 2016. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images)

Responding to reports that former FBI Director James Comey specifically avoided embracing President Trump at a White House event, a former Hillary Clinton staffer revealed that the Democratic candidate had anticipated a potential embrace during debate preparation.

Philippe Reines, a political consultant and former State Department adviser to Clinton, tweeted out a video of a September practice session in which Reines portrayed Trump. In it, Clinton avoids Reines’ attempt at a hug by high-fiving him and trying to jog away.

Reines was responding to a New York Times report in which one of Comey’s friends detailed how the then-FBI chief had told him about refusing to be pulled into a Trump embrace.

“Comey said that as he was walking across the room he was determined that there wasn’t going to be a hug,” said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog, told the Times. “It was bad enough there was going to be a handshake. And Comey has long arms, so Comey said he preemptively reached out for a handshake and grabbed the president’s hand. But Trump pulled him into an embrace, and Comey didn’t reciprocate. If you look at the video, it’s one person shaking hands and another hugging.”

Trump’s sometimes awkward handshake style has been closely analyzed by some. He held onto Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hand for 19 seconds and pulled so hard on the arm of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch that the maneuver was referred to by the Guardian as a “yank-shake.” On another occasion, Trump failed to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the White House said later that he did not hear her request.

The Clinton campaign attempted to anticipate not just Trump’s potential answers during debate preparation but also his physical size and mannerisms. A January profile in Politico outlined the lengths Reines went to in order to get into character as the Republican nominee:

He searched eBay for a 2005 Donald J. Trump signature collection watch, which he purchased for $175. He experimented with a self-tanning lotion on his face. Before prep sessions, Reines began suiting up with Velcro kneepads (to keep his legs straight), a posture enhancer (to keep his arms back), and dress shoes with 3-inch lifts (to match Trump’s 6-foot-1-inch frame). His longtime tailor fit him for a loose-fitting suit with large cuffs. His goal was not a “Saturday Night Live”-style caricature of Trump, so he didn’t try to replicate Trump’s famous mane. But he wanted to approximate his physicality so that Clinton would grow accustomed to Trump’s looming presence when she saw Reines in her peripheral vision.


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