The raucous 2016 presidential primary season is hinting at a new round of fireworks, this time involving Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Late Wednesday night, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump said he would be willing to debate Democratic contender Bernie Sanders.
Asked on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! if he was willing to debate Sanders, the billionaire said “Yes, I am. How much is he going to pay me?”
“If I debated him, we would have such high ratings and I think I should take that money and give it to some worthy charity,” he added. “If he paid a nice sum toward a charity, I’d love to do that.”
Sanders quickly accepted the offer with a “Game on” tweet and said he looked forward to having the debate in California before the state’s primary on June 7.
Game on. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 26, 2016
Suggesting the Golden State as the location for the debate is no accident. The Public Policy Institute of California rolled out new data on Wednesday that shows Sanders and Clinton running neck and neck in the state. PPIC’s survey finds that among Democratic primary likely voters, Clinton has 46 percent support while Sanders has 44 percent. The gap is well within the survey’s margin of error, which is plus or minus 5.7 percent.
The state’s primary is open, meaning voters who aren’t registered as Democrats can participate. And California offers 475 pledged delegates, the largest total of any state.
A debate between Sanders and Trump would be must-see TV, not only for Californians, but the entire country.
Clinton is less than 80 delegates short of clinching the Democratic nomination, but a win in California would give a tremendous boost to Sanders, who has vowed to keep fighting until the Democratic National Convention this summer.
The Vermont lawmaker needled Clinton over her campaign’s decision to decline another debate before the California primary. Sharing the stage with Trump — who fares worse against Sanders than against Clinton in many speculative general election match-ups — would give Sanders the opportunity to elevate his own status and his message of economic inequality one last time while knocking the former secretary of state down a peg or two.
The unusual development comes at the same time Clinton is once again in hot water over the private email server she used while serving as the nation’s top diplomat. The State Department Inspector General has issued a scathing report that said Clinton broke federal rules when she arranged her “homebrew” email system.
Clinton’s email woes have dogged her throughout her presidential campaign and the renewed negative attention is sure to impact her polling numbers. Between that and a possible faceoff between Trump and Sanders, some voters could start asking themselves, “Hillary who?”
However the debate is by no means a sure thing, and is looking less likely by the minute. Time is now reporting that the offer to debate was just a joke on Trump’s part, but there’s been no definitive word from the Trump camp yet either way. Sanders, of course, is still willing to do it. But it’s not hard to imagine that Hillary Clinton, out somewhere on the campaign trail, has her fingers crossed that the meeting never occurs.