An off-the-cuff remark from Donald Trump to a late-night talk show host might snowball into the blockbuster event of the 2016 presidential primary cycle.
Trump, the de facto Republican presidential nominee, and Bernie Sanders, the second-place Democratic hopeful, are flirting with the idea of staging a shocking spectacle in a historically unpredictable presidential race: a cross-party primary debate between two outsider candidates who have shaken up the political establishment.
Both candidates say they’re interested in a debate that Trump has predicted would draw huge ratings.
“This would be a complete circus,” said Democratic media strategist Brad Bannon. “To me, it shows more than anything else that American politics has become entertainment.”
“I think it’d be fun to watch,” she said.
Trump says his campaign has been contacted by several networks eager to get in on the action.
He is already predicting a hefty price tag for anyone advertising during the event, with proceeds going to charity. Trump priced the debate between $10 million and $15 million, and suggested a women’s health organization should receive the money.
“The Young Turks” online news outlet, where Sanders has appeared, offered $1 million to charity to stage the event, Politico reported.
Trump and Sanders agree the debate should take place in a massive arena, likely in California, where both parties will hold primary contests on June 7.
Sanders channeled his inner Trump in proposing “the biggest stadium possible” for the debate.
The Vermont senator thanked host Jimmy Kimmel for giving the idea life when he appeared on the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Thursday night.
“You made it possible for us to have a very interesting debate about two guys who look at the world very, very differently,” he said.
Sanders also said that ABC, Kimmel’s network, had reached out to the campaign about putting on the debate. At the beginning of his show, Kimmel offered to moderate.
Just the possibility of a Trump-Sanders debate set the media sphere ablaze.
Political watchers are clearly excited by the potential showdown between a world-famous billionaire reality TV star and a self-identified democratic socialist whose long-shot presidential bid has transformed him from a back-bench senator to a pop culture phenomenon.
A debate between Trump and Sanders, who isn’t even going to be a nominee, would be the Super Bowl of crazy and I must have it. #GameOn
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) May 26, 2016
The proposal actually began as a joke between Trump and Kimmel, but it quickly gained steam from there.
Ahead of Trump’s appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Wednesday night, the Sanders camp was given the chance to submit a question for the host to ask Trump and chose to challenge him to the debate.
Trump told Kimmel in response that he’d be open to debating Sanders.
A Trump campaign official described the remarks to The Hill on Thursday morning as “tongue-in-cheek.”
But Trump appears to have underestimated Sanders’s seriousness about the notion, and Sanders quickly responded on Twitter during the broadcast, saying “Game on.”
Sanders has little to lose in his primary contest and badly needs a game-changing event. He has been unable to persuade Clinton to agree to another debate before the California primary on June 7.
Sanders pounced on the opening Trump gave him, and the Republican’s remarks soon took on a life of their own.
Trump had fun with it at press conference in North Dakota, exhibiting his trademark swagger.
“The problem with debating Bernie is that he’d lose,” Trump remarked.
But Trump passed on an opportunity to keep the conversation going during Sanders’s appearance on Kimmel’s show; he instead submitted a question about Sanders running as an independent if party leaders “steal” the nomination from him.
A debate between the two would come at a strange time in the presidential cycle.
Clinton could potentially secure the Democratic nomination on June 7, but a Trump-Sanders debate could potentially drain that accomplishment of a lot of excitement.
She brushed off the potential debate as a joke when asked about it Thursday.
Sanders has long argued that he’s the better candidate to face Trump. And the debate would give him the opportunity to prove that while drawing attention to the fact that Clinton declined to participate in another Democratic debate.
“This is just an unbelievable spectacle,” Bannon said. “It really upstages Hillary at a critical time for her. The Clinton folks must be furious.”
Evelyn Rupert contributed to this report.