Desperate times call for desperate measures.
This seems to be the message of the Bernie Sanders campaign as it limps into the final three weeks of the Democratic primary. The campaign has spent over $200 million and now has less than $6 million on hand to spend on California's expensive media market. That number is now even less as Sanders as Sanders recently took out a $1.5 million ad buy in the state as well as having held large, expensive rallies in places like Sacramento to provide the campaign with its patented optics that showcase the large scale support for Sanders and his message. Unfortunately, Sanders has also run into a bit of a rough patch. His recanvass of Kentucky (paid for by Kentucky taxpayers rather than the Sanders campaign) confirmed a Hillary Clinton victory and Sanders was recently criticized for lying about his meeting with AIDS activists after having previously refused to meet with them. With a recent SurveyUSA poll showing Clinton with an 18-point lead and early voting returns coming back primarily from older voters, it became apparent that Sanders needed some way to get back on the media's good graces, and to do it without incurring any significant costs.
Enter the Great Democratic Debate Debacle of 2016.
Knowing all this, Sanders became keenly aware that something had to be done to get him some positive, free media coverage in the Golden State. So he went to his bread and butter: criticizing the evil DNC for not catering to the independent senator's every need. Sanders accepted an invitation by Fox News to take part in a California debate, believing that both the DNC and Hillary Clinton somehow owed him this one final opportunity to have him publicly attack the inevitable Democratic nominee on stage for two hours of free airtime. Unfortunately for Sanders, this isn't Clinton's first rodeo and she respectfully declined the invitation, knowing full well that she had nothing to gain from participating as it would only serve to give Sanders two hours to continue to spew Republican-based lies and smears all while offering his same talking points that voters heard during the previous nine debates. Despite Sanders feeling slighted, he simply could not peer pressure Clinton into debating him ahead of the California primary.
Enter late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel.
On Wednesday night's Jimmy Kimmel Live, guest Donald Trump was asked by Kimmel about the possibility to debating Bernie Sanders ahead of the California primary. This question was submitted by the Sanders campaign and served as a way to drum up media coverage for Sanders' own appearance on the show coming up on Thursday. Trump, as we all know, always agrees to things before thinking through them (a great trait to have as president), and instantly said that he would debate Sanders if the proceeds went to charity. Almost instantaneously, Sanders responded with a Tweet announcing his excitement in anticipation of the event. Later on Thursday, Sanders suggested the debate be held in "the biggest stadium possible," a not-so-subtle appeal to maximize his exposure while simultaneously enjoying the free airtime. Trump has since said he will consider the debate as long as between $10-$15 million is donated to charity on behalf of women's issues.
Despite the fact that Sanders' supporters are giddy at this possible debate as demonstrated by the fact that #BernieTrumpDebate is trending on Twitter, it is actually the Hillary Clinton camp that should be excited about the developments over the past twenty-four hours. The reason? Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have nothing to gain and everything to lose now that this debate has been proposed. However, due to their competing egos, neither presidential candidate has the foresight to realize that they are helping Hillary Clinton rather than helping themselves. As Clinton sits back and continues to campaign across the Golden State, both Sanders and Trump will be spending the next two weeks dealing with the aftermath of their impromptu debate proposal. No matter how this plays out, it will be Hillary Clinton who will emerge victorious as each potential debate scenario will harm either one or both of her remaining opponents.
Scenario 1: No Debate Happens
This is the most likely scenario, and the one that both Sanders and Trump will have a hard time spinning. If it doesn't happen, then both Sanders and Trump will have to explain why. No matter what actually causes the debate to not come to fruition, it will not be lost on the general public that both Trump and Sanders have previously had issues donating to charity. It was recently revealed that Trump lied about his charitable donations to veterans groups, claiming both that he raised $6 million and that he personally donated $1 million, both numbers being proved to be exaggerations. Sanders on the other hand, has previously said he "doesn't believe in charities" and he only gave 4% of his income to charity in 2014, a far cry from the percentage that previous presidential candidates had given. In addition, both Sanders and Trump and have struggled winning over women voters. To have to explain how and why they were unable to contribute to the cause of women's health will only heighten the distrust that most women have for each candidate. Combine that with the fact that Trump is a self-professed billionaire and Sanders' campaign has raised over $200 million and there will be plenty of questions as to why both candidates were unable to spend money benefitting such a valuable cause. Should the debate not happen, Hillary Clinton would surely point out that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have proven themselves to be no friends of women.
Scenario 2: Sanders Wins The Debate
In the unlikely event that a debate actually happens, there likely will be a winner and a loser, at least according to which candidate's supporters can effectively flood social media polls. Should there actually be a debate and should Sanders "win" then his supporters will proclaim him to be the superior choice to Hillary Clinton come the general election. What they won't be able to understand is that Sanders will be giving Clinton a free preview of Trump's fall debating technique and talking points. Throughout the primary, Trump didn't have a single debate where he went one-on-one with another Republican candidate on stage. He was able to benefit by being one out of many and he could pick and choose his attacks as well as his pivots back to his key strengths. He talked for twenty minutes at most, and that was toward the end of the campaign where he shared the stage with Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz. By taking on Sanders one-on-one, Trump will finally be asked questions on a wide variety of topics and there will be no doubt that the Clinton campaign would be taking meticulous notes regarding Trump's answers or, more importantly, lack thereof.
Scenario 3: Trump Wins The Debate
Should Bernie Sanders falter and give Donald Trump a debate victory, it would all but end Sanders' claim that he is the strongest candidate to take on Trump in the general election. It also would inevitably showcase Sanders' inability to handle personal attacks. Sanders has been extremely fortunate throughout the Democratic debates that Hillary Clinton has refused to personally attack Sanders' character, focusing on policy differences instead. Trump would undoubtedly take the low road in a debate as "Crazy Bernie" would probably be one of the nicest things he would say all evening. Should he be able to beat Sanders in a debate, the main reason would not be policy expertise but instead would be his ability to get under Sanders' skin and provoke outbursts or excessive finger wagging, neither of which would help present Sanders with the appearance of being presidential. After asking/begging for a California debate with first Clinton and then Trump, Sanders' supporters would be extremely embarrassed if he ultimately lost the debate despite his best efforts to hype up the event.
All three of these scenarios clearly benefit Hillary Clinton. But the most beneficial part is that while both Sanders and Trump are now caught up in this proposed event, Clinton can continue to campaign to help build her general election coalition all while letting Sanders and Trump have their fun in the sun. After being vindicated by the State Department Inspector General report on Wednesday, there was the possibility that Republicans as well as Sanders supporters would be out and about, spreading lies and misinformation about the report. However, a proposed debate between the candidates with the most obnoxious supporters has now become the newest, shiniest object in their daily lives and it has consumed their attention. Add to the fact that Fox News is still in the running to host this mythical debate and they too are passing up time and effort to potentially smear Hillary Clinton to instead comment on the ongoing status of the potential blockbuster event.
No matter what happens, both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have proven themselves to be two peas in a pod. They both crave the spotlight. They both yearn for media attention. They both feel entitled to be able to have an event come about simply because they want it so. They both manipulate people like Jimmy Kimmel to further their own agenda. They both believe themselves to be in the right while everyone else is in the wrong. It is this belief in their White male privilege that has often been overlooked in this primary season. Yet here we are with the most obvious instance yet that these two presidential nominees represent two sides of the same coin. By having them seemingly working together in their effort to take down the Democratic frontrunner for president, there can be no doubt that both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump aren't that different after all. They both want what they feel they are entitled to: the presidency of the United States.
And they both will be denied it by a strong, independent woman who knows better than to play their silly little games.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.