Troll level: Grandmaster. After Donald Trump offered to debate Bernie Sanders, Sanders immediately and publicly accepted, which prompted Trump’s advisers to retreat from the offer and claim it was a joke. Team Bernie chief Jeff Weaver then went on MSNBC and told Andrea Mitchell that Sanders definitely plans on debating Trump — and hopes that Trump won’t “chicken out” on the challenge:
Well, I think there’s starting to be some back-channel discussions. I do hope — I saw that thing last night, and it seemed that Donald Trump was serious when he was talking about it. And I hope that his handlers don’t dissuade him, or that he doesn’t sort of chicken out on this. I think it would be great for the American people to be able to see these two candidates on stage, debating the important issues.
Note that Weaver takes two shots at Trump in this passage. The obvious one is that Trump lacks the intestinal fortitude to face off against Sanders, and that Trump won’t back up his tough talk with action. The other is that Trump doesn’t actually run his own campaign, but is under the control of his “handlers.” Those aren’t exactly unknown attacks in politics, but in this case Trump himself opened the door to both with his glib challenge to Sanders. If he doesn’t back it up, Trump risks losing considerable ground on toughness.
What happens if Trump accepts, though? The prospect prompted an unusual display of concern from Mitchell. “He’s setting you up, isn’t he?” she Weaver. “He’s trying to take advantage of the situation to hurt the Democratic Party by labeling you ‘crazy Bernie,’ by trying to pump up and diminish Hillary Clinton.” Weaver replied by noting that being called ‘crazy Bernie’ isn’t exactly getting “pumped up,” but Mitchell continued to press the concern that Trump would exploit Sanders as a way to undermine Hillary Clinton. After Weaver again challenged Trump’s courage, Mitchell again demanded to know whether “this is an attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton.” Why would Sanders care about that at this stage? And why does Mitchell make so big a deal about it with Weaver, anyway?
On the unity question, Weaver has other issues than Donald Trump. He told Mitchell that the kind of unity she wants will be “much easier to achieve” with another DNC chair:
“I think unity in the party would be much easier to achieve if we had a consensus chair who was committed to playing the traditional role that the chairs of parties play,” Weaver said in comments to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
“The kind of conduct we saw from the chairwoman’s office over the course of this campaign really is a sticking point for a lot of people out there who support Sen. Sanders,” Weaver said. “The millions of people out there who support Sen. Sanders, they’ve seen the finger on the scale and they’re unhappy about it.” …
“Even when there’s sharp elbows in a primary contest, the chair of the party is looking out for the broader interests of the party to make sure the party can come together in the end,” Weaver continued. “We’ve seen repeatedly from chairwoman Wasserman Schultz that’s not the role she’s played.”
Democrats may have to acquiesce and push Wasserman Schultz out of the top slot. Given the rapid deterioration of relations between Sanders and top Democrats, they may find themselves looking at a party split even worse than that within the Republican coalition — or a flat-out defection.