A Donald Trump Vs. Bernie Sanders Debate Might Happen, & Here’s What It Would Look Like
As of Wednesday evening, it would appear 2016’s crazy election season has, by some great miracle, managed to get even crazier: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders just agreed to debate. While it’s likely that, as the presumptive Republican nominee, Trump will go on to face Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in general election debates, a debate with Sanders would arguably be even more iconic and, after all that’s been said and done these past several months, culturally significant.
Over the past year, they’ve both been hyped as leaders of powerful protests against the political establishment and grassroots movements within their parties, with Sanders guiding his followers toward inclusiveness and equality, and Trump guiding his followers toward racist brawls at his own rallies. You might call it a match made in Heaven.
It all started when Trump appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which you may or may not have watched after The Weeknd nobly opted out to protest Trump’s appearance on the show. The two got around to discussing Clinton’s recent and controversial decision to not debate Sanders a final time ahead of the California primary.
Kimmel then asked Trump if Trump would be down to debate Sanders, to which Trump initially responded by joking that he would if Sanders paid him, or “paid a sum toward charity,” or if the network covering the debate would donate profits to charity. The bottomline: Yes, Trump would love to debate Sanders. A Sanders vs. Trump debate “would have such high ratings,” Trump boasted.
Sanders responded almost immediately via Twitter: “Game on. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary,” Sanders wrote. Well, it’s more likely a campaign staffer wrote the tweet, but it’s fun to imagine the 74-year-old Democratic socialist spitting social media game as fiery as any millennial could.
On Thursday, several sources told CBS Trump had been joking, and Clinton herself was under the impression the deal was a joke, and, of course, added that she was excited to debate Trump for real in a few months.
However, Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver wants to see this go down as much, if not more, as you do. “There have been a few discussions,” Weaver told CNN, although he admitted these discussions were “preliminary.”
Later on Thursday, proving he wasn’t lying the night before when he admitted to having never personally met Sanders, Trump said in a press conference he would debate Sanders for “$10 million.” Trump himself has consistently bragged that he’s too rich to be bought, and Sanders and his campaign funded by small individual contributions are vigorously against money having clout in politics, so this seems like a rather contradictory request.
Still, just think about how legendary this hypothetical debate would be. Leaders of two polarizing, antagonistic movements, sparring. Yup. Would watch that TV. Would watch that TV real hard.
Where Sanders was the only presidential candidate who responded to a transgender rights activism group’s questionnaire with what the group called “thoughtful and strong” answers, Trump not only ignored the same questionnaire (although, hey, so did Clinton), but told Kimmel on Wednesday night he agrees with his party in that, “whatever you’re born, that’s the bathroom you use.”
In the same vein, Trump wants to see the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage overturned while Sanders has been advocating for gay marriage since at least the 1970s, and established Burlington’s first gay pride parade in the 1980s.
The stark contrasts go on, and just get, well, even starker:
- Sanders has been advocating for legal abortion for decades; Trump recently flirted with the idea of not only banning abortions but also punishing abortion patients.
- Sanders is arguably the most pro-labor presidential candidate in recent history; Trump is a known union-buster.
- Sanders’ has a famous civil rights record spanning back to the 1960s and is endorsed by Erica Garner, Shaun King, Cornel West and others; Trump has been endorsed by KKK leaders and gleefully retweeted literal racist lies from actual white supremacist Twitter accounts.
- Sanders’ campaign is all about calling out the greed and corruption of the billionaire class; Trump is the billionaire class.
- And of course, when it comes to immigration and the border, while Sanders is far more famous for his emphasis on economic equity whereas Trump rose to fame for calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, Sanders’ stances could hardly be more different from Trump’s.
And let’s not forget we’ve gotten a tantalizing sneak peek at what a Sanders vs. Trump debate would look like, before this, back in December. In fact, the Huffington Post literally dubbed Sanders’ attack “the only attack on Donald Trump that actually worked.”
In a November GOP debate, when asked about the current movement for a $15 minimum wage (which, by the way, Sanders is the only candidate to passionately support), Trump argued against it with the ridiculous claim wages at the present are already too high.
A month later, Sanders pointed out the utterly counterproductive nature of low-wage workers supporting Trump:
“Look, many of Trump’s supporters are working-class people and … They’re angry because they’re working longer hours for lower wages, they’re angry because their jobs have left this country for China or other low-wage countries. …
This is a guy who does not want to raise the minimum wage. In fact, he has said that he thinks wages in America are too high. But he does want to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the top three-tenths of 1 percent.”
Faced with the prospect of his legions of low-wage supporters realizing the error of their ways, Trump naturally countered with a series of tweets going back on everything he’d previously said, claimed instead that he had always believed wages were “too low.”
Jeez, whether it’s pretending he never said women should be punished for having abortions or lying about his past views on the minimum wage, it’s like this man has honestly forgotten the internet is a thing and everything he says and has ever said is on the record for everyone to see.
But anyway, there it is. Sanders has, on at least one occasion, turned 2016’s big, blustering schoolyard bully into a flip-flopping puddle of insecurity, and even managed to change his view (or at least pretend to) on a crucial issue. I would kill to see a three-hour televised version of this.
Arguably the most interesting aspect of a Sanders vs. Trump debate, however, would be what they agree on. Because believe it or not, there are a couple things. For starters, their stances on universal healthcare…although it’s likely that Trump, as he often is, was just confused and pandering back in September when he proposed overturning Obamacare for a single-payer system. And we already know Sanders’ impassioned, shared stance on the issue.
But on an even deeper level, they share a resentment for the political establishment and status quo that they aren’t shy about bashing on. In Sanders’ version of things, the economic elites are less dominant and everyone is getting respect and human rights, while in Trump’s utopia, power remains with the rich while America becomes hell on earth for minorities. It would be fun to hear them argue their similar yet radically different perspectives on the establishment and the future, and more fun to hear Sanders tear Trump’s to shreds.
At the end of the day, a Sanders vs. Trump debate might not serve too much use since the current delegate math on the Democratic side favors Clinton, but like I said, it would bear great cultural significance and the closest thing you’ll find to a showdown of Good vs. Evil in modern America.
Seeing Sanders, who boasts a more commanding lead over Trump in a potential general election lineup than does Clinton, school Trump and defend all the marginalized groups Trump’s spent the past year relentlessly bullying could win Sanders some much-needed support. While this wouldn’t necessarily change his fate, at the very least it would be an unforgettable last stand, and a rueful yet thoroughly entertaining glimpse at what could have been.