Why Hillary Clinton Won't Debate Bernie Sanders

Though Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders agreed to a possible California debate earlier on in the race, on Monday, Clinton announced that she will not debate Sanders ahead of the state's primary. Considering that Clinton has recently asserted that she will definitely be the Democratic presidential nominee, it probably seems pretty easy to conclude that she doesn't see a reason to debate. But according to Clinton, it's more that she sees a good reason not to. And that reason is Donald Trump.

Fox News reached out to the Democratic candidates with an offer to host the debate, and Sanders accepted. Clinton's spokeswoman, Jennifer Palmieri, explained: "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."

As Clinton prepares for the likely scenario of receiving the Democratic nomination, she has been turning her attention more and more to Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. On Sunday, she told NBC's Chuck Todd that, though she would consider a debate at that time, "I think what's important is we're not going to let — at least, my campaign is not going to let Donald Trump try to normalize himself in this period ..."

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Todd cut her off at this point, but it seems that she was indicating the period between now and the end of the primaries, during which time Trump will be running unopposed. She said that the Democratic primary season would be helping the Republican candidate "if we don't respond to Donald Trump, which I am doing." Clinton apparently thinks it's important to step in and be the opposition from this point on.

"I do not want Americans, and you know, good thinking Republicans as well as Democrats and independents, to start to believe that this is a normal candidacy," Clinton said. In order to interrupt that idea, Clinton plans to expose the emptiness of Trump's rhetoric:

[W]e are going to demonstrate he has no ideas. There's no evidence he has any ideas about making America great, as he advertises. He seems to be particularly focused on making himself appear great. And as we go through this campaign, we're going to be demonstrating the hollowness of his rhetoric.
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Clinton is likely concerned that the hollowness of Trump's rhetoric, and his emphasis on how he appears rather than what he actually stands for, will allow him to make himself appealing to a wider voter base than the plurality of voters in Republican primaries who already back him. Being a policy chameleon opens a candidate up to easy criticism from opponents. But, particularly when it goes unchallenged, this ability to change colors (no reference to his unnatural hue intended) could woo voters who are hearing what they want to.

Whether participating in one more Democratic debate would really help Trump by temporarily forcing Clinton to focus on the primaries is, well, debatable. But her belief that it's important to challenge Trump's legitimacy in the absence of other Republican contenders is sound.