Dust off the lawn chairs and get the popcorn ready: Donald Trump says he’s willing to debate Bernie Sanders before the June 7 California primary.
During a Wednesday night appearance on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Trump said he would accept the Vermont senator’s challenge to a one-on-one debate as long money raised for the event goes to charity. Such an event would be unusual; Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee and Sanders is facing increasingly daunting odds in the Democratic primary.
“Game on,” Sanders tweeted in response. “I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California.”
Game on. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 26, 2016
The apparent agreement comes on the heels of likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s refusal to debate Sanders in California — something Sanders said was an insult to residents of the Golden State.
“A number of months ago, our campaign and her campaign reached an agreement on a number of debates, including one here in California,” Sanders said at a Monday rally in Santa Monica, Calif. “I gotta tell you this: I think it is a little bit insulting to the people of California — our largest state — that she is not prepared to have a discussion with me about how we address the major crises we face.”
The Clinton campaign did not immediately return a request for comment on the proposed Trump-Sanders debate. And it’s unclear where or when it will occur, if at all.
“We hope to debate Donald Trump,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday afternoon. “We hope he won’t chicken out.”
But the possibility of a face-off between the billionaire real estate mogul and self-described democratic socialist lit up Twitter, where the hashtag #BernieTrumpDebate remained the top trending hashtag Thursday morning.
— Teva Ilan (@Tevallan) May 26, 2016
— Internet Palace (@InternetPalace) May 26, 2016
— Sāvion (@SavionWright) May 26, 2016
— Deja M. Burt (@Hoosyourdaddy99) May 26, 2016
— Jeff Barrett (@BarrettAll) May 26, 2016
“I’d love to debate Bernie,” Trump said at a press conference in North Dakota Thursday afternoon. “But I want a lot of money put up for charities. So what we’ll do is if we can raise for maybe women’s health issues or something, if we can raise $10 or $15 million for charity, which would be a very appropriate amount — I understand the television business very well. I think it would get very high ratings. It should be in a big arena somewhere. And we could have a lot of fun with it.”
I am delighted that @realDonaldTrump has agreed to debate. Let’s do it in the biggest stadium possible.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 26, 2016
“It appears Donald Trump is prepared to debate,” Sanders said at a rally in Venture, Calif. “I can’t wait for that.”
In an interview with the website Revolt.com in Hollywood earlier Thursday, Sanders said the purpose of the debate would be to take the Republican nominee “to task for his outrageously bigoted remarks against African-Americans, against women, against Mexicans, against Native Americans. The strength of our country is our diversity, our coming together.”
Trump, for his part, sounded a bit like a Sanders surrogate on “Jimmy Kimmel” and criticized the “rigged” superdelegate system used to help elect the Democratic nominee.
“I think it’s very unfair what’s happening to Bernie Sanders,” he said. “And I don’t like it.”
Sanders trails far behind Clinton in both pledged and unpledged superdelegates, many of whom announced their support of the former secretary of state before Sanders launched his campaign. But recent national polls show that Sanders fares better than Clinton against Trump.
According to a new NBC/WSJ poll released this week, Clinton’s lead over Trump has fallen from 11 points last month to just 3 (46 percent to 43 percent) — a figure that falls within the poll’s margin of error. The same poll found that Sanders is well ahead of Trump, by 15 points (54 percent to 39 percent), in their theoretical general election matchup.
But Trump insisted to Kimmel that he isn’t worried.
“I actually think Bernie would be easier to beat even though he [does] better in the polls,” he said.
Trump also said his past praise for Clinton was insincere, including his 2008 assertion that she would make an “excellent” president.
“When I’m a businessman … I speak well of everybody,” Trump said. “So when they asked me about Hillary, ‘She’s wonderful, the husband, everybody’s wonderful.‘”
“So you were full of s***?” Kimmel asked.
“Maybe a little bit,” Trump said, laughing.
Meanwhile, Kimmel’s scheduled musical guests Wednesday — The Weeknd and rapper Belly — pulled out in protest of Trump.
“I just didn’t want to feel like I was a part of a celebration for somebody who has beliefs that the majority of us don’t agree with,” Belly told the Associated Press. “For me, being Muslim and being somebody that appreciates my access here in America, I love the fact that I’m able to be here. To play my part in this business is a privilege and a beautiful thing. The fact that I could lose that ability through the actions of someone such as Donald Trump isn’t right to me. At all.”