Hillary Clinton may have run away from a debate from Bernie Sanders, but Donald Trump certainly isn’t. Last night on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, the presumptive Republican nominee challenged the presumptive Democratic runner-up to a debate … as long as Sanders puts up some cash for charity first:
Donald Trump on late Wednesday said that he is ready and willing to debate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for charity.
“Yes, I am,” he said on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” “How much is he going to pay me? If he paid a nice sum toward a charity, I’d love to do that.
“If I debated him, we would have such high ratings and I think I should take that money and give it to some worthy charity,” the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee added.
It didn’t take long for Bernie to accept the challenge — and name the place and time:
Game on. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 26, 2016
For Bernie, why not? It might give viewers a rare opportunity to see a Democrat debate on a day and time when people actually watch TV. It certainly gets Sanders out from Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ thumb when it comes to scheduling. Sanders has nothing to lose, given that he won’t be the party’s nominee anyway. He could take some pre-emptive shots for Hillary Clinton if he’s feeling generous and if Democrats start treating him right … or perhaps take some pre-emptive shots at Hillary if not.
The draw for Trump seems less clear. He claims that he can swing Sanders’ supporters to the GOP in the general election, but that’s strictly speculative at the moment. Engaging Sanders one-on-one might create such an opening, but the nature of debates — and Trump’s style in particular — is so adversarial that it’s more likely to infuriate Bernie’s legions than to ingratiate Trump among them. Trump has openly encouraged Sanders to go third-party, and raising his stature might make that option more attractive. Agreeing to a debate with Sanders while Hillary ducks one may make her look craven, but whether Democratic voters will give Trump any credit for it remains to be seen.
All of those potential pluses have to get stacked against the potential for damage, whether from something offensive coming from Trump’s mouth or just an old-fashioned debate flop. He’s done well so far, but the audience has been mainly Republican, too. Maybe this is just a warm-up act for the fall debates against Hillary, but it’s a curious risk to run for the chance to best an also-ran this late in the cycle.