There’s talk of a debate between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It would occur before the California primary.
Sanders says he’s up for it. Trump said so too, but now it seems he may have been joking.
For Sanders, a successful debate against Trump could propel him to victory in California, something he dearly would love to achieve. However, it wouldn’t propel him to the nomination. Hillary Clinton has that locked up unless the email scandal takes her down.
Let’s focus, therefore, on the calculus for Trump. The advantage of debating Sanders is obvious. It would give Trump the opportunity to win over Sanders voters in the general election.
Conventional wisdom now holds that there are a good many Sanders voters to be won by Trump. And why not? Both candidates are insurgents who have attracted disaffected, anti-establishment voters. Surveys suggest that 20 percent of Sanders voters already favor Trump over Hillary Clinton. There is the potential for others to join them.
The disadvantage of debating Sanders is also obvious. It would give Trump the opportunity to lose Sanders voters in the general election.
For Sanders, the debate would represent an opportunity to rip into Trump. He has every reason to do so. This is a man whom Sanders likely despises for reasons of ideology, biography, and probably personality. Moreover, flogging Trump would help endear him to Democrats, thus promoting his goal of winning in California.
We know that Trump doesn’t take attacks lying down. When Sanders rips into him, he probably will rip into Sanders just as hard and considerably more nastily.
This, of course, would alienate the Vermont man’s supporters. Many of those who are thinking of supporting Trump would likely conclude that Hillary Clinton isn’t really so bad.
If Trump were deft enough to deflect Sanders’ attacks, rather than punching back harder, the debate could be a big success for the tycoon. But most of what we know about Trump tells us that the light touch isn’t in his arsenal and that he would respond to Sanders the only way he knows how — with ridicule, venom, and abuse.
Trump shouldn’t be ridiculing or abusing Bernie Sanders. He should not debate him.