S.E. Cupp: Donald Trump's decision not to debate Bernie Sanders deprives us of an enlightening spectacle
She says Hillary Clinton would lose by being seen as forfeiting chance to stand up to Trump
Editor’s Note: S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
In what has felt like the longest, most grueling, soul-sucking election season in modern history, there finally seemed to be a bright spot.
Trump v. Bernie: Yaaasss! Please!
For a few days, we could amuse ourselves with the idea that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would debate each other.
Can you think of a better gift? And it’s not even Christmas.
Late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel played the role of Henry Kissinger in getting these two characters at least to say they want to come together in a televised debate before the June 7 California primary.
And then, cruelly, Donald Trump dashed our hopes with his statement Friday afternoon that, “it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second-place finisher,” adding that the Democratic nominating process is “totally rigged.”
So, back to reality. After all, Sanders has practically no shot at becoming president, and no matter what Trump would say at such a debate it would be unlikely to have any effect on his poll numbers.
Trump predicted it would be a ratings bonanza. Sanders tweeted, “I am delighted that @realDonaldTrump has agreed to debate. Let’s do it in the biggest stadium possible.”
Trump said he would do it for charity – “something over $10 million” – which he and Sanders would donate to “maybe women’s health issues or something.” Planned Parenthood, perhaps?
This now-dashed debate had something for everyone.
If you want to “Make America Great Again,” you’d likely revel in the expert counterpuncher’s savvy swings at the self-described Democratic socialist. I wanted to see Trump call Sanders “Swedish Bernie” or “Comrade” once or twice. For Sanders’ critics, who assert he can’t deliver on all of his unrealistic campaign promises, Trump have done them proud. “Free college? Trust me, Bernie, as a businessman, I know … nothing’s ever free.”
If you’re feeling the Bern, imagine how deftly the senator would have been able to expose Trump’s total ignorance on domestic and foreign policy? Sanders could have finally explained to Trump that he can’t overturn the Geneva Conventions, that he probably shouldn’t unilaterally arm Saudi Arabia with nukes, and that he might want to brush up on the policies he says he supports.
A joint event would have allowed these two to bro out from time to time. They share similar positions on trade, Super PACs, and preserving Social Security. They are both anger candidates who made the calculation not to quell their constituents’ fears but to foment them.
Both emerged unexpectedly as contenders despite most election watchers’ dismissals. If they had debated, we could have expected to hear the words “rigged system” as many times as both candidates like to say, “Yuge.” And just this week, Trump told Bloomberg Politics he wants to make the GOP the “worker’s party.” Music to a socialist’s ears.
The news of Trump’s decision not to debate had to be a rare sweet moment for Hillary Clinton, who decided she didn’t want to do another debate with Sanders before California, where polls show her an embarrassing defeat to the Vermont senator is a possibility.
The Sanders/Trump debate retaliation would have been sososo evil-genius, locking her out of a huge story, a big ratings event, and, to be less cynical, an important conversation. It would have elevated Sanders to be debating the Republican nominee with Clinton nowhere in sight, and make her look weak for ducking an opportunity that Trump is tough enough to take on.
In a contest between Trump – who can’t tell us what exactly he plans to accomplish as president – and Sanders, who can’t tell us how, it’s hard to say who would have emerged the winner here. But one thing is certain. As marketing goes, this would have been P.T. Barnum’s “Greatest Show on Earth.”
Note: This article has been updated with news of Donald Trump’s decision not to debate Bernie Sanders.
S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.