Report: Fox News nearly got Trump and Bernie Sanders to agree to a debate

A brilliant idea and a surefire ratings smash given popular interest in their candidacies — but Trump turned out to have a scheduling conflict. Which sounds familiar.

Can’t this be scheduled rather easily? These guys are campaigning in many of the same states at the same time.

Rebuffed yet again in coaxing Hillary Clinton onto Fox News, executives at the network had an outside-the-box idea last month that would have made primary debate history: a face-off between Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the equally fiery candidate on the Republican side, Donald J. Trump.

The Trump campaign was initially very interested, according to Fox officials, and the Sanders campaign was on board. But before the debate could be announced, the Trump campaign pulled out, citing scheduling conflicts, so the network planned to welcome just Mr. Sanders in an hourlong town-hall-style event, hosted by Bret Baier as part of his “Special Report” program.

Late on Friday, the network received a surprise call. Mrs. Clinton would participate, ending her two-year absence from the network that her liberal base loves to criticize.

Why the hell would Trump ever, ever, ever want to debate Bernie Sanders — or anyone who knows what they’re talking about, for that matter? He does the GOP debates because ducking them would lead the other candidates to call him a coward, which is bad for his alpha-male image, but the last couple have obviously hurt him. Rubio and Cruz piled on him at the Houston debate two weeks ago and then Trump gave his single dumbest answer of the campaign at the Detroit debate last Thursday when he said he was “changing” on H-1B visas. He’s protecting a lead; the last thing he should want now is to create more opportunities to underperform in a pressure setting. And for cripes sake, if he’s intent on doing extra debates, the last guy he should want to get in the ring with is Bernie Sanders. There’s too much overlap between their disaffected white working-class constituencies. Sanders, given a chance to directly address Trump’s base, would have a lot of policy detail to offer them about how he’s going to bring back jobs and put more money in their pockets. Trump by contrast would mumble something about tariffs and then say, “Trust me, we’re bringing all the jobs back. Everyone will have a job, okay?” There are no Sanders supporters who are going to bolt Bernie for that message but I’ll bet there are some independents in Trump’s coalition who’d take a hard look at a guy who’s on their side and who actually seems to have a plan, workable or not, for turning things around. They’re both populists, they’re both running against “the establishment.” If being politically incorrect is important to you, obviously you’re sticking with Trump. But if it isn’t, why wouldn’t you look at Sanders? Seems like Team Trump wised up and came to the same conclusion before this fiasco could happen. Hence the “scheduling conflict.”

Phil Kerpen asks a good question meanwhile: “Why not let Cruz do it?” Yeah, why not? What’s wrong with a Sanders/Cruz debate in lieu of a Sanders/Trump match-up? Cruz strikes me as a guy who’s so confident in his debate skills, justifiably, that he wouldn’t turn down a high-profile opportunity against anyone. Him debating Sanders doesn’t have quite the same “populist outsider” charm that a Sanders/Trump debate would have but they’re the two politicians in the race this year who are probably furthest apart ideologically. That alone would make it interesting. Would Fox be willing to do that or has their endless romance with Trump reached the stage of exclusivity? Frankly, for true believers like Sanders and Cruz, I don’t know if you’d even need the excuse of a presidential election to get them to show up and argue with each. A Sanders/Cruz debate would have been fun two years ago. Something for Fox to consider once its true love Donald passes from the scene and they’re looking for confrontational political stunts going forward.

Exit question: Who’s the real populist in the Republican race? Here’s Cruz today talking to reporters today about Trump’s new habit of asking people at his rallies to raise their hands and pledge their votes to him.

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