It’s been a bad week for Hillary Clinton. First, she took a considerable amount of criticism from Bernie Sanders supporters for refusing to debate him one last time before the California primary. Next, she was harshly rebuked for declaring herself the nominee on CNN. Then, a 78-page State Department audit came out that gave the world its most explicit look yet at just how flagrantly she violated federal rules with her private email server.
And now this.
On Wednesday, Donald Trump told late-night host Jimmy Kimmel that he would be pleased to debate Sanders for a charitable cause. “That could happen,” Trump said of the possibility. “I’ve been saying that should happen anyway. If he paid a nice sum for charity, I would love to do that.”
Sanders wasted no time posting trash talk to Twitter:
“Game on. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary.”
Under normal circumstances, that might have been the last we heard of the proposition. But the 2016 election has been anything but normal. The next day, reporters who would have ordinarily dismissed this idea as inconceivable were pressing both candidates on the subject.
“I said I’d love to debate him,” Trump reiterated on Thursday. “But I want a lot of money put up for charities. So what we’ll do is if we can raise for maybe women’s health issues or something, if we can raise $10 or $15 million for charity, which would be an appropriate amount.”
Again on Twitter, Sanders said, “I am delighted that Donald Trump has agreed to a debate. Let’s do it in the biggest stadium possible.”
Will it happen? Actually, it might. Already, most of the networks have expressed serious interest in organizing the debate. And since the ratings would likely be historic, it should be trivial to come up with $10 million for charity.
For both Trump and Sanders, it’s a no-lose situation. Sanders is nearly out of gas; only a huge (yuuuuge) event of this magnitude could pull him out of his primary death spiral. Trump, meanwhile, has little to worry about. If for some reason, he’s crushed in the debate, what difference does it make? He’s almost certainly facing Hillary, not Sanders, in the election. Merely by showing up, he will have shown courage where she showed cowardice.
Best of all for Trump, this event will make Hillary look irrelevant. If she’s the Democratic nominee, why is all of the world’s attention suddenly focused on Trump and Sanders? When you talk about societal psychology, this event could hurt her worse than all the scandals in the world. Here’s the woman all the pundits expect to be president, reduced to just another sideline observer. Compounding the problem, both Sanders and Trump will hit the stage knowing in the backs of their minds that Hillary is the enemy. Don’t expect to hear too many compliments heading her way.
This event would be terrific for American democracy, terrific for Sanders, and especially terrific for Trump and the Republican Party. If it therefore doesn’t happen, we can assume one of two things: Either someone made a big judgmental error or SOMEONE is pulling the strings.