I’m disappointed. Donald Trump, after saying that he’d love to debate Bernie and that it would be easy to debate Bernie… has backed out of debating Bernie. This is even after one company has pledged to give $20 million to women’s health charities in order to host the debate. This could have been the biggest debate in history… and Trump turned it down. It could have been a great opportunity for the two most popular candidates in this election cycle to establish some common ground… but we’ll never know.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
WHY did #ChickenTrump turn down this opportunity? Clearly, there was a decision-making process that led to Trump’s reversal on the idea, so it’s our task to figure out why he’s decided to back out of the debate.
First off, Trump doesn’t need this debate. He is already the presumptive Republican nominee. There is nothing that he is guaranteed to gain from this, as he is already getting constant publicity.
On the other hand, Bernie has nothing to lose. BEWARE of a person who has nothing to lose. This would be the fight of Bernie’s life and he would come in swinging. This brings back memories of Chris Christie torpedoing Marco Rubio’s campaign. If Bernie went into this with the mindset that he could be the man who stumps the Trump, so to speak, it could go very badly for Trump. Trump, on the other hand, has to look to November and the last thing he wants to do right now is destroy Bernie.
Trump has more to lose than to gain. On one hand, the two could establish some common ground and eliminate Hillary Rodham Clinton from the discourse shortly before the nation’s last and largest primary. Trump could even use this as an opportunity to differentiate himself from the most radical element of the Democratic Party. The majority of Americans don’t want their taxes raised to pay for free college and socialized medicine and Trump could speak for that majority. On the other hand, in a political climate where winning debates is all about who gets in the best one liners, Bernie could end up scoring a victory that could haunt Trump in the general election campaign – even if Bernie is not his opponent. If Trump were to be cast as the loser of the debate, it would be an unnecessary defeat.
This testifies to Trump’s innate sense of caution that has not been evident during this campaign. In the first chapter of The Art of the Deal, Trump relates a story of a Texas oil man who wanted him to invest in an oil field. It was pitched to Trump as a no lose proposition. It sounded great. But then,
Anyone who wants to understand Trump and his decision-making process should start with The Art of the Deal. His approach to risky situations is the same as it was thirty years ago. He has never been shy about backing out of a deal at the last minute, even if he’s already made a commitment to it. While we could come up with all kinds of reasons that Trump should do this debate, Trump has a tendency to go with his gut. His instincts have gotten him this far, so maybe he should keep trusting them.
Trump would have to be an impulsive media whore in order to walk into this sort of ambush…
But wait! Isn’t he an impulsive media whore? Maybe not. Maybe he’s being… presidential. Maybe he’s not the loose cannon that everyone thinks he is, which is something that I’ve been saying for a long time. Trump says what he feels that he has to say to get media attention, but he also realizes that there can be such thing as too much media attention, as was made evident in his disastrous interview with Chris Matthews in March.
When Trump’s endgame is considered, his decision makes perfect sense. Trump wants Bernie to win the California primary, which will place a dark cloud over the legitimacy of Hillary’s nomination, which may be part of the reason that he helped to create this debate buzz in the first place. BUT Trump doesn’t need Bernie to get so much positive media attention that he ends up getting the Democratic nomination. Right now, Trump is set to go into the general election against an embattled candidate who has absolutely no charisma, is not trusted by the majority of the public, and has an indictment hanging over her head like a Damocles Sword. When you add in Hillary winning the Democratic nomination by the skin of her teeth in a seemingly fraudulent process that’s created a lot of bad blood, this is a dream scenario for Trump. The media buzz that has resulted from the proposed debate may end up being enough to give Bernie the edge he needs to win California – and that’s all Trump wants.
Sharing a debate stage with Trump would give Bernie an unprecedented air of gravitas and would allow Bernie to speak for the Democratic Party and cast him in the role of the presumptive nominee. While it should be easy for Trump to beat a self-avowed democratic socialist in a general election, Bernie has a very excited base behind them and he shares Trump’s commitment to keeping jobs in this country. It would be a bad idea to underestimate Bernie.
And Trump knows that it would be a bad idea to underestimate Bernie. He doesn’t need this debate against a man who has nothing to lose and that is why he didn’t do it. And as disappointed as Trump’s decision makes me, I have to say that he made the right decision. This is cold, calculating realpolitik at its best. Trump has backed away from a battle with the war in mind – a war that looks increasingly winnable if he can avoid making impulsive decisions like this decision very well could have been.
I teach history and government