A Colorado public speaking coach thinks he has the Trump sniffle solved

It’s the sniffle heard ‘round the world.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump sniffles. A lot.

But that sniffling seems to appear only when he’s debating his Democratic counterpart, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In hundreds of campaign rallies, including many that were televised, Trump doesn’t sniffle, even once. Not even when he was debating the dozen or more other Republican candidates in the primary season.

While it’s not a big controversy, in an election year that has been full of the bizarre, Trump’s sniffling has been the subject of dozens of articles and social media attention. There are almost as many theories for why he sniffles as there are sniffles. Allergies. A bad mic (his claim). A nervous tic. He’s pregnant (really?) Even cocaine, although at 70 years old that would be dangerous for the New York businessman in more ways than one.

In Sunday’s debate, by one count, Trump sniffled 93 times.

But here’s a theory you might not have yet heard. According to John Mullen of Superior, Colorado, who has taught presentation skills to individuals and groups for more than 25 years, it’s merely a lack of breath control when Trump is nervous.

The Donald? Nervous?

Yes, says Mullen, who provides management and organizational development consulting and training around the world.

Mullen told The Colorado Independent that Trump actually isn’t sniffling. It’s more like a sharp intake of breath, but through his nose rather than through his mouth. Mullen believes Trump’s sniffling is a manifestation of shallow breathing under duress— a kind of performance anxiety.

Trump has done hundreds of rallies and been on TV for many years, so why would he struggle with his breathing now?

Mullen, who observed Trump’s performance in the two debates, says Trump is in a position that he’s never been in before, and, potentially, one in which he is not comfortable.

“It’s the debate more than Clinton specifically,” Mullen says. Trump is accustomed to performing and presenting in rallies, which take place in a supportive atmosphere in which he is comfortable.

Mullen said the sniffling is actually a physiological issue.

Trump isn’t doing the kind of deep diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, that would help him control his nerves, he says. Instead, he’s breathing in a much more shallow fashion, through his nose, and it causes him to “catch” his breath. Hence, the appearance of sniffling.

As Mullen sees it, unless someone is very well trained and prepared, the tendency in this kind of situation is to breathe too shallowly into the upper lobes of the lungs.

“When you breathe through your nose like that, it’s the the nasal equivalent of a sharp intake of breath,” he says. “It’s not sniffling, it’s more a sharp shallow attempt at breathing.”

Mullen observed Trump was breathing shallowly through his nose, and while he wasn’t exactly gasping for breath, Trump “was trying to breathe while he was speaking and that came across as sniffling.”

Mullen also points out that the shallow breathing is exaggerated by Trump’s style of hunching over the microphone. “That proximity to the microphone also is going to amplify or exaggerate that breathing pattern,” he says.

As to Trump’s other debate performances, Mullen says the shallow breathing likely didn’t show up during the Republican primary season because Trump was taking on all comers. The pressure wasn’t as high.

But now, the spotlight is brighter, the national TV audiences are bigger, and Trump is now the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, Mullen says. That means the stakes, win or lose, are unbelievably high. So is the level of stress.

And it’s coming out through Trump’s nose, Mullen says.

Photo courtesy of Raw Story.

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.


  1. That was my thought too. I thought maybe Ritalin to enhance his memory but the side effects don’t match the snuffling. Some kind of medication would explain the behavior in the latter part of the debates as the meds began to wear off.

  2. He will never be well versed enough to be president, and we will all find out really soon how dumb he really is..cant have a prompter every time you have to meet the press and answer questions…that scares him to death.lol.


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