the national interest

Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump Say They’ll Debate. Here’s Why It Could Happen.

This debate will be yuge. Photo: Getty Images

Last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Donald Trump was asked if he would debate Bernie Sanders, and he agreed to do so. Sanders immediately accepted the offer. What makes this unusual event plausible is that it serves the interests of both figures (assuming Sanders does not define his own interests as helping Hillary Clinton beat Trump in November). Sanders would get to be elevated to the role of imaginary Democratic candidate, using the platform to display himself outperforming Trump, as he has always claimed he could. The Trump debate would be a media spectacle, providing him with gobs of free publicity.

Trump’s incentive is, perhaps, even stronger. First, by elevating Sanders, he would aggravate the Democrats’ problem. Maximizing Sanders’s vote in the final round of states would increase the widespread belief of his supporters that he has somehow been robbed of the nomination despite losing by extremely large margins at the ballot box, and make the task of unifying the Democratic Party slower and more difficult. What’s more, Trump would use the platform to attack Clinton, and the attacks would be all the more effective since Sanders would probably not be rebutting them.

Trump has already echoed Sanders’s hallucinatory view that the Democratic primary is rigged against him. A debate between the two is the perfect vehicle for them to amplify what is becoming a converging message.

Update: Trump says he was just kidding, which is bad news for Sanders, and good news for Clinton.

Here’s Why a Sanders-Trump Debate Could Happen