In a completely unsurprising development, Donald Trump won't debate Bernie Sanders after all, according to a statement released by the Trump campaign Friday. After saying on multiple occasions that he'd happily jump into the ring with the Vermont senator, the Donald now says that it "seems inappropriate" to debate the "second place finisher" in the Democratic primary, so he's not going to. But Sanders was every bit the "second place finisher" two days ago that he is now, so why did Trump abruptly change his tune?
Officially, it's not clear, because the statement Trump released is rambling and vague. He first accuses the Democratic Party of being "totally rigged," and claims incorrectly that Democratic leaders "will not allow Bernie Sanders to win." (In fact, the reason Sanders hasn't been winning the primary is that he's received 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.) He then says that the networks who would presumably air such a debate "are not proving to be too generous to charitable causes," and concludes that he'll "wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be."
Like much of what Trump says, none of this makes sense. For one, he had previously said that he wanted Sanders himself to pay for the debate, so the willingness of networks to shell out the cash isn't relevant. It's also unclear why the Democratic primary being rigged (which, again, it isn't) would change his calculus. In fact, if Trump truly believed that the system was working against Sanders, it would make more sense to challenge that injustice by giving Sanders a platform to debate than backing out and allowing the status quo to perpetuate itself.
It seems, then, Trump never really wanted to debate Sanders to begin with, and didn't count on the idea picking up as much steam as it did. This is weird, because in all likelihood, a Sanders-Trump debate would have worked to Trump's advantage. It would have given him a national stage from which to poach disaffected Sanders supporters, and granted legitimacy to every argument Sanders has made against Clinton during this primary. Trump should be chomping at the bit to debate Sanders, not backing out.
So why the turnaround? It could be that Trump doesn't want to diminish his own status by getting on stage with a "second place finisher." Or maybe he's seen the polls showing him getting crushed by Sanders in a general election matchup, and doesn't like the idea of being the less popular candidate on the stage. Or maybe it's rank cowardice. Whatever the reason, it has become clear that Trump never truly intended to debate Sanders.