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The Sanders/Trump Debate Would Only Legitimize Trump

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The Sanders/Trump Debate Would Only Legitimize Trump

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Grand Prairie, Texas February 27, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

In case you weren’t already aware, there’s a really odd election going on. And earlier this week, one of the odder twists of the 2016 cycle began, fittingly, on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Speaking with Kimmel Wednesday night, Donald Trump entertained the idea of debating Bernie Sanders after Kimmel asked him about it, saying “If I debated him we would have such high ratings and I think we should take that money and give it to some worthy charity.”

Sanders responded to the proposition on Twitter, with a glib “Game on. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary.”

On Thursday, Trump seemingly reinforced his enthusiasm with the idea, telling voters in Bismark, North Dakota, “I’d love to debate Bernie. He’s a dream. 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 a very appropriate amount.”

When Trump suggested that the debate would need to happen in a big arena, Sanders responded again on Twitter with  “I am delighted that @realDonaldTrump has agreed to debate. Let’s do it in the biggest stadium possible.”

Given how Trump’s last debate-related charity event went (not well at all, though Trump, predictably, disputes that), and the fact that Hillary Clinton has thus far refused to debate Sanders in advance of the California primary, should we be surprised it has come to this?

A Politico article speculated thatWith no Democratic debate, Sanders seems to be looking for any way to keep up his campaign’s momentum. A showdown between the fiery senator and the bombastic real estate mogul would be must-watch TV and possibly the most-hyped media spectacle of this crazy campaign year.”

Therein lies the problem with this whole proposition – even if there is something to be gained by Sanders in placing his progressive causes front and center on perhaps the biggest stage of this campaign, the potential negative consequences outweigh the positives… by a lot.

To start, the dynamic surrounding the debate unfortunately already hews closer to the bully-in-the-schoolyard approach of Trump’s campaign than anything from the Sanders campaign. Game on? Seriously?

For two candidates drawing upon the deep-seated anger among certain parts of the left and right, seeing their elementary back and forth perhaps isn’t surprising, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. As Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN, they hope Trump doesn’t “chicken out”.

Which is all well and good, but Sanders’ insistence on debating a media virtuoso place him directly in the trap that the media has fallen into time and time again with Trump — caring too much about him.

By latching onto one of Trump’s offhand remarks, he’s given Trump an even bigger platform to spread his asinine beliefs. The problem is that many Americans don’t feel that these beliefs are asinine at all, and by circumventing an already weak party structure on both ends, Sanders and Trump have set themselves up in opposition to the existing political status quo.

And is there any chance there won’t be a section of this debate in which both Trump and Sanders rail against the Democratic Party, and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton? As Trump contended in North Dakota yesterday, “The problem with debating Bernie is he’s going to lose. Because honestly his system is rigged. Just like our system is rigged.” Sanders and Trump have both argued this, and getting on the same stage to do so again, and finding themselves in agreement, would only lend a huge degree of legitimacy to Trump, the only one of the two whose campaign will survive the summer.

Hasn’t Bernie said he would do everything he could to defeat Donald Trump? This debate would do the opposite.

Perhaps the best outcome of this whole situation, if the debate does happen, would be if Sanders forces Clinton’s hand on a number of progressive issues before the general election. More than that, though, trumpeting his causes front and center may force a number of them from the far left into the center of bipartisan American political discussion, which Sanders has done masterfully on issues like raising the federal minimum wage.

If Sanders can use a debate to pressure Trump into accepting even more progressive dogma into the Republican platform, he will have succeeded in single-handedly shifting the nation’s political discourse to the left.

However, If Sanders is committed to working seven days a week to stop Trump, as he has said he is, then he will take a pass on the debate. Trump has already pivoted to the general election. He will be working to undercut Clinton and bolster Sanders because he sees the current divide in the Democratic party. And even if Trump were to align with Sanders on certain progressive issues, would that not also help him in the general election? Of course it would.

Drawing a stark opposition between Democrats and Trump should be Sanders’ goal going forward, and muddying those waters only allows Trump to adorn various rhetorical guises that will eventually benefit his campaign.

While bringing progressive issues into the Republican platform is important, the stakes are too high in this election to play with the fire that is Donald Trump. Trump’s stoking of Sanders’ supporters’ anger by insisting the system is “rigged against Sanders” will bolster the Bernie or Bust movement. And Bernie will have played right into future President Trump’s hand.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Grand Prairie, Texas February 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder



  1. Siegfried Heydrich May 27, 2016

    The more I see of Bernie, the more I think he’s getting too wrapped up in his own ego and forgetting that the movement he’s begun is more important than just him.

  2. Terry Dunross May 27, 2016

    Pure brilliance on Trump’s part. Look at the infighting this is causing for the democrats. Trump has locked up another set of news cycles, is being PAID for it, and the media is calling Bernie the bad guy…

  3. dtgraham May 27, 2016

    Of all the smears, put downs, and minimalizing of Bernie Sanders that I’ve read at the National Memo, this may be the most idiotic. Benjamin Powers’ brain must be in the shape of a pretzel after that circus contortion act of “reasoning.”

    From the very start of the process early last year, Bernie floated the idea of cross party debates being helpful to both party’s voters in the primaries. This isn’t new. Put both of their arguments and platforms in front of a mass audience and expose Trump’s ideas, or what passes for them, for the callous uncaring shallowness and lack of depth that they have. If there’s a tiny crossover between the two of them, like on trade, so what. This would be a disaster for Trump and I have to believe that he’s going to change his mind. If he should modify some of his positions during the debate to match Bernie’s arguments, and thus begin a progressive shift in the nation’s political discourse, it would be a stretch to consider that a bad thing.

    You would think that the bigger picture of progressive ideas and the success of the Democratic party would be paramount here, but not to this cesspool of a Hillary propaganda website. Their Hillary-dar is always on and always on the lookout for anything that doesn’t promote Hillary. The National Memo actually has the unmitigated gall to express concern about the #Bernieorbust movement. Listen up, NM. It’s media like you that seriously p*ss off a large section of the Democratic voters and animate that movement.

    1. King of America May 27, 2016

      Utter drivel. Sanders has lost, attacking Hillary – and that is all this “debate” would be about – at this point serves only to strengthen Trump. A child could understand this.

      1. dtgraham May 28, 2016

        I don’t doubt for one moment that this is the basis for your understanding of this because a childlike understanding of everything is all you have.

        1. King of America May 28, 2016

          Yes, personal attacks are all you can back up your delusions with – I understand.

          1. dtgraham May 28, 2016

            “Utter drivel.” What was that, King of Cognitive Dissonance, a compliment?

            Reply, and then that’s it. I’m not going back and forth with you for a week, which seems to be your modus operandi here. If it was a true exchange of reasonable opinions and ideas, that’s different. However, with you it’s just mindless childish snark. So give it your best shot.

          2. King of America May 29, 2016

            That was not a personal attack. It’s of course unsurprising that you – a conspiracy theorist zealot trying to spin Sanders’ unacceptable behaviour – cannot tell the difference. I’m also not entirely sure why you seem to think I’m not allowed to reply to your childish insults.

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