To some voters, the prospect of Democratic insurgent Bernie Sanders debating Republican nominee Donald Trump in an “arena somewhere” in California would be a dream come true.
To others, it would be the stuff of unseemly political nightmares.
We’re not sure where Hillary Clinton falls on that spectrum, but one thing is clear: No one would even be talking about a #SandersTrumpDebate (or #TrumpSandersDebate, depending on your political persuasion) if the Democratic front-runner had kept her promise to California.
It was back in February when Clinton vowed to hold one last debate here in May. Sanders kept his end of the bargain, but Clinton, now the leader in terms of pledged delegates, had other thoughts.
“We believe that Hillary Clinton’s time is best spent campaigning and meeting directly with voters across California and preparing for a general election campaign,” a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
That opened the door to what already is becoming a spectacle. So much for being seemly.
On Friday, the Sanders campaign said at least two TV networks have floated offers to broadcast an interparty debate between Trump and Sanders. Both offers met Trump’s only caveat – that the debate would raise money for charity – “$10 million or $15 million,” maybe for “women’s health issues.”
Not that the chatter about this is likely to go away before California’s June 7 primary. Already, there has been prodding from talk show hosts and on social media.
Clinton waves off the notion of an interparty debate, saying that she doesn’t “think it’s serious.”
She might be right. But what is serious is the state of her primary race against Sanders in California. A new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows that Clinton and Sanders are in a dead heat among voters. Among Democrats and independents who plan to vote in the primary, 46 percent back Clinton and 44 percent back Sanders.
That’s why Clinton should reconsider debating Sanders. She still has a lot of people to convince that she’s the best primary candidate.
Losing California would be embarrassing, and it would sap her momentum headed into the Democratic National Convention, where Sanders and his supporters are sure to, no matter how shortsightedly, put up a fight for the nomination.
Beyond that, California deserves a robust, thoughtful presidential debate.
This overwhelmingly left-leaning state has 39 million people and the eighth largest economy in the world. Californians should get the chance to hear the top two Democrats vying for president talk in depth about the things that matter to us.
That includes water (yes, we’re still in a drought), immigration (that wall Trump wants to build would not make our economy great again), and income equality (we are a state of very rich people and very poor people).
And they shouldn’t forget about marijuana, technology and climate change.
A debate between Trump and Sanders, if it ever materializes, would be must-see TV. But a debate between Clinton and Sanders would be far more useful to undecided lefty voters in California.
It’s time for Clinton to step up where Trump chickened out. Debate Sanders.