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Gov. Terry McAuliffe acknowledged applause from the crowd Wednesday as he was introduced for his final State of the Commonwealth address.

BOB BROWN / RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH

In a TV appearance just days before he leaves office, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he would punch President Donald Trump if he ever got too close during a debate.

McAuliffe, often mentioned as a possible Democratic challenger to Trump in 2020, made the comment Thursday night during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

Bringing up the “Godzilla way” Trump “leaned over” Hillary Clinton in a televised debate last year, Matthews asked McAuliffe what he’d do if Trump tried the same move with him.

“You’d have to pick him up off the floor,” McAuliffe said.

“You mean you’d deck him?” Matthews replied after a few seconds of seemingly stunned laughter.

“Listen, this guy got in my space, you want to get in my space, I’ve always said, Chris, you punch me, I’m gonna punch you back twice as hard,” McAuliffe said. “And it wouldn’t be hard to do it.”

McAuliffe will leave office Saturday after completing his four-year term. Virginia’s term limits prevent him from running for re-election, but McAuliffe has openly flirted with the idea of a presidential run.

McAuliffe hasn’t always taken a strongly adversarial stance toward Trump. After Clinton, his longtime friend, lost the presidential race last year, McAuliffe said he had known Trump for decades and looked forward to working with him. Trump also donated $25,000 to McAuliffe’s 2009 campaign for governor in Virginia.

In 2014, Trump tweeted a picture with McAuliffe at Trump Winery outside Charlottesville.

Soon to be free of any responsibility to play nice with the president, McAuliffe offered up his formula for beating Trump.

“This guy thinks he can intimidate everybody. It’s disgraceful. It’s embarrassing,” McAuliffe said. “When we take him on, back in his face, with the facts, don’t take anything from him and hit him back as hard as you possibly can. But if he ever came over and leaned on me and got in my space, that would be the last time Donald Trump ever did that. I promise you that.”

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