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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump Yanks Steyer Quote Out of Context

President Donald Trump used a truncated quote from Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer to falsely suggest that Steyer thinks “Democrats are going to destroy the economy in 15 minutes if they get in control.” That was Steyer paraphrasing what he says Trump’s false line of attack will be in the general election. 

Trump seized on the out-of-context quote in a tweet sent out just a couple hours after the completion of the Democratic debate in Iowa on Jan. 14.

Trump referred to another tweet from Sarah Dolan Schneider, executive director of America Rising, a Republican super PAC that was founded “for the sole purpose of exposing the truth about Democrats through video tracking, research, and strategic communications.” Her tweet included a video clip of Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, at the Democratic debate saying only, “Democrats are going to destroy the economy in 15 minutes if they get in control.” She commented, “TRUE.”

Shortly after Trump posted his tweet, Steyer responded via Twitter, “Read the transcript. It’s actually perfect. I said you’re a fraud and a failure — and I’ll expose you. Now go to bed.”

The transcript of Steyer’s comments at the debate makes clear how grossly the quote has been pulled out of context.

Steyer, Jan. 14: Look, we know how Donald Trump is going to run for president. He’s going to run on the economy. He’s already told Americans last month in Florida, “You don’t like me and I don’t like you, but you’re all going to vote for me because the Democrats are going to destroy the economy in 15 minutes if they get in control.”

So let’s be clear. I started a business by myself in one room. I didn’t inherit a penny from my parents. I spent 30 years building that business into a multi-billion-dollar international business. Then I walked away from it and took the giving pledge and started organizing coalitions of ordinary Americans to take on unchecked corporate power.

But whoever is going to beat Mr. Trump is going to have to beat him on the economy. And I have the experience and the expertise to show that he’s a fake there and a fraud. … I can beat Trump on the economy. We’re going to have to beat him on the economy. And I look forward to taking him down in the fall on the debate stage.

In his comments about Democrats and the economy, Steyer was paraphrasing what Trump told a crowd at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Florida on Dec. 7.

Trump, Dec. 7: A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me. You have no choice. You’re not going to vote for Pocahontas [Trump’s derogatory nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren], I can tell you that. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax. Yeah, let’s take 100 percent of your wealth away. No, no, even if you don’t like me, some of you don’t, some of you I don’t like at all, actually. And you’re going to be my biggest supporters, because you’ll be out of business in about 15 minutes if they [one of the Democratic presidential candidates] get in.

In other words, Trump, who said in his tweet “I agree” with Steyer, was actually agreeing with his own comments made in Florida a month prior. Those comments do not reflect Steyer’s position.

The video featuring Steyer’s shortened, out-of-context quote may have been intended as a joke, but it has been viewed 2.4 million times — at least in part due to a misleading boost from the president. There’s no way to know how many of those viewers took the video seriously.