Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders suggested on Thursday that they would be happy to face each other in an unusual cross-partisan debate just before the June 7 California primaries – but it’s not clear it will actually happen.
Trump said in a press conference here that he would debate Sanders only if $10 million to $15 million went to a charity, perhaps one specializing in “women’s health issues.” It’s assumed that the bulk of that money would have to come from a television network. No network immediately stepped forward to claim interest on Thursday.
The real estate mogul – who formally clinched the Republican nomination on Thursday, according to an Associated Press tally of delegates – also continued his habit of wading into the Democratic primary contest by suggesting that front-runner Hillary Clinton had an unfair advantage over Sanders.
“We could have a lot of fun with it,” Trump said. “I would love to debate Bernie, actually. I mean the problem with debating Bernie is he’s going to lose [the nomination] because, honestly, his system is rigged just like our system is rigged.”
At an afternoon rally in Ventura, California, Sanders said he would “look forward” to challenging Trump on issues ranging from climate change to the Republican’s insults of Latinos, Muslims and women.
“I think we’re going to have to rent out the largest stadium you have here in California,” Sanders said of a theoretical debate. “I can’t wait for that, because we’re going to ask Mr. Trump why he thinks giving hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country is a good idea.”
In an interview with ABC News, Clinton said she had taken the whole suggestion – first made by Sanders earlier in the week – as a joke. The former secretary of state, who is expected to clinch the nomination in California, said she is looking ahead to her own debates with Trump in the fall.
“I am very much anxious to be on the debate stage with him, to draw out the contrast, to make the points about his background, his dangerous and divisive rhetoric and policy suggestions,” she said.
This is not the first time that Trump has offered to debate for cash, and he has flirted with the idea of charging television networks for his participation. Trump said that an unusual matchup with Sanders would garner large ratings for the television network that hosts it, so that up to $15 million “would be a very appropriate amount.”
In late December, Trump skipped a debate in Des Moines, Iowa, organized by Fox News because he felt the network had treated him unfairly and because Megyn Kelly would be one of the moderators. Instead, Trump hosted a competing rally nearby and collected money for veterans groups.
Trump’s remarks came at a wide-ranging news conference here in North Dakota, where he also delivered a speech to a petroleum industry group on energy policy.
He took shots at a variety of foes, including Clinton, President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who has sharply criticized Trump as a “lousy businessman” and “money-grubber” attempting to pose as a populist.
Trump fired back with a trademark insult, calling Warren “Pocahontas” – a reference to controversy over her claim of partial Native American heritage – who has “a big mouth.”
Under questioning from reporters, Trump also pulled back from earlier suggestions that he might invoke long-debunked conspiracy theories over the 1993 suicide of Vince Foster, who worked in the Clinton White House. Trump told The Washington Post last week that the case was “fishy” and might be part of his campaign message.
But on Thursday, Trump said the matter should not be part of the campaign unless new information emerges.
“I really know nothing about the Vince Foster situation, haven’t known about it, and somebody asked me the question the other day and I said that a lot of people are very skeptical as to what happened and how he died,” Trump said. “I know nothing about it. I don’t think it’s something that, frankly, really, unless some evidence to the contrary of what I have seen comes up, I don’t think that it’s something that should be part of the campaign.”
The shift came after Foster’s sister, Sheila Foster Anthony, criticized Trump in a Post op-ed for “cynically, crassly and recklessly” insinuating that her brother had been murdered.
“How wrong. How irresponsible. How cruel,” Foster wrote.
Trump’s press conference was carried live on major cable networks, which ignored a speech that Clinton delivered at about the same time to a labor conference in Las Vegas. Clinton has shown signs of pushing back against Trump’s overwhelming dominance of news coverage, particularly on cable, and was interviewed by several networks on Thursday.
In the Las Vegas speech, Clinton called for unity in the Democratic Party in order to fight Trump and noted that the primary race against Sanders was coming to “an end.”
“I look forward to coming together to unify our party to stop Donald Trump and move our country forward, because there’s much more that unites us than divides us,” Clinton said.
In San Jose on Thursday, Clinton upped the pressure on Trump to release his tax returns, calling into question whether he is trying to hide unflattering revelations about his finances.
“Either he’s paying no taxes or he’s paying very little,” Clinton said. “The only way to find out which it is is for him to release.”
“Either he’s as wealthy as he claims or maybe he’s not; the only way to find out is for him to release.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Jenna Johnson, David Weigel