Bernie Sanders relishes ripping on Donald Trump, describing the billionaire as “someone who must never become president of this country.”
No surprise there.
Sanders has run his entire 2016 presidential campaign in opposition to plutocracy, oligarchy, and billionaire-dominated politics—proudly declaring that his run is paid for by small donors and “not the billionaires.” In fact, Sanders has run his entire political career in opposition to plutocracy, oligarchy, and billionaire-dominated politics. He has, as well, spent decades critiquing a media system that pays more attention to “lifestyles of the rich and famous” celebrity than the real-world issues facing working-class Americans. That’s made Trump, a billionaire byproduct of the media’s cult of celebrity, a preferred target for the senator, who rips the Republican’s rhetoric as “shameful” and complains that “every day he comes up with another stupid remark, absurd remarks.”
So it was a given that Sanders would embrace the idea of debating Trump—after the billionaire told Jimmy Kimmel on Wednesday that he would be willing to debate the dissident Democrat. Sanders, who has tried without success to get one more debate with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton before the June 7 California primary, jumped at the prospect of stirring things up with Trump.
“Game on. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary,” said Sanders, whose uphill campaign would undoubtedly have benefited from the attention accorded a clash with the Republican candidate.
But the game wasn’t on. Trump backed out Friday afternoon, offering a list of excuses for why he would not do the debate.
That made sense for Trump, as Sanders would have given the billionaire no quarter — and might well have damaged the Republican’s ability to fool some of the people some of the time with a faux-populist appeal in the fall.
While it is true that both Sanders and Trump criticize elites, they do so from radically different perspectives. Trump is a nationalist, a xenophobe, and something of an isolationist. Sanders is an economic populist who rips on corporations and preaches international solidarity in the fight against austerity. They have fundamental disagreements, and Sanders would have made the contrast clear — illustrating the distinction between a Republican who claims to care for workers and candidate who actually has a pro-worker agenda.