Bernie Sanders Should Debate Before California. But He Shouldn't Debate Hillary Clinton
On Monday, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton declined to debate Bernie Sanders in California before the state's June 7 primary, where 475 party delegates are up for grabs. The Fox News debate had been agreed to by Sanders, and would have been the first Democratic debate on the conservative news channel in 12 years. Fans of Sanders were dismayed — his announcement of the cancellation at a rally was met with boos — and some them took to Twitter propose an alternative: a Donald Trump/Bernie Sanders debate. While the idea may sound far-fetched at first, I think a Trump/Sanders showdown could be a significant moment in this election. Update: As of May 26, both Trump and Sanders have agreed to debate each other, though no formal date has been set.
Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said on Monday, "We believe that Hillary Clinton's time is best spent campaigning and meeting directly with voters across California and preparing for a general election campaign that will ensure the White House remains in Democratic hands." Sanders shot back at a rally that same day: "I am disappointed but not surprised by Secretary Clinton's unwillingness to debate before the largest and most important primary in the presidential nominating process."
What about Trump's willingness, then? That's the question many people began asking. Seth Abramson, an assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire and a Huffington Post columnist, posted a Twitter poll on Monday night asking whether Fox News should air a Trump/Sanders debate. The poll has garnered nearly 13,000 votes so far, with an overwhelming 85 percent or respondents saying "yes."
I voted "yes" too, and here's why: I believe that a Trump/Sanders debate would represent a clash between two very different visions of Americas which share a common core of anger with the status quo. Such a debate would be a symbolic move that could crystallize the divide and highlight the contrasts in their competing ideas for changing the country in a dramatic way.
A debate between Trump and Sanders would also be the first time the two presidential candidates would meet face-to-face. It would be an experiment in how Trump would react to a political opponent known for being just as fierce and blunt (though not anywhere near as lowbrow) as him. From afar, Trump has treated Sanders almost cordially, in comparison to the vicious character assaults he's made against people like Ted Cruz. Sure, there have been jabs, like calling Sanders "Crazy Bernie" or mocking Sanders' visit with the Pope, but Trump has also expressed sympathy toward him at times, tweeting "the books are cooked against Bernie!"
Many speculate that Trump's semi-civility may be part of a ploy to steal Sanders' supporters, and Trump himself told MSNBC in April that "Bernie Sanders has a message that's interesting. I'm going to be taking a lot of the things Bernie said and using them." His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, echoed him, saying, "We will bring those people in." It would be interesting to see how this would translate during a prime-time debate. How would Trump strike a balance between properly dueling Sanders and not alienating the Vermont senator's supporters? A debate may help settle the issue of how Sanders' supporters would be swayed by Trump.
Trump versus Sanders is an intriguing concept. But alas, the likelihood of such a debate is tiny. Rare are last-minute debates, let alone inter-party ones before the nominees are official. Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that both parties will come around to the idea.
Image: Bustle/Caroline Wurtzel