Rob Burgess

“Wouldn’t that be something?” Those were the words that escaped my lips Thursday morning, after I read the headline that Donald Trump had agreed to debate Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

The previous evening, Trump had been a guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” when the host related a question from Sanders, asking if the Republican presidential nominee would be willing to debate the senator before California’s primary election Tuesday. (As I wrote in my March 30 column, “Trump cancels; Fox, RNC follow”, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had previously agreed to debate Sanders before Californians cast their ballots, but later backed out.)

“Yes, I am,” said Trump. “How much is he going to pay me? … If I debated him, we would have such high ratings, and I think I should take that money and give it to some worthy charity. … If he paid a nice sum and it went toward a charity, I would love to do that.”

Kimmel said if Sanders didn’t put up the money, a network could.

“That could happen also,” Trump said. “In fact, I’ve been saying that should happen anyway.”

On Thursday, Sanders called Trump’s bluff, saying ABC had contacted him about it.

“The goal would be to have it in some big stadium here in California,” Sanders told Kimmel.

From there, Trump waffled back and forth, saying he was kidding one minute (it certainly didn’t seem that way, but OK) before saying he was all for it.

“I’d love to debate Bernie, but they’d have to pay a lot of money for it,” he said during a press conference Thursday in North Dakota, according to The Atlantic’s Matt Ford. “[Trump] suggested raising between $10 million and $15 million ‘for maybe women’s health issues or something.’”

Bob Arum, the legendary 84-year-old boxing promoter and chief executive and founder of Top Rank, said he would donate at least $20 million to charity.

“It’s the debate of the century between two of the top pound-for-pound politicians in the country,” said Arum on Thursday, according to Andrew L. John of The Desert Sun. “We have two contenders ready, willing and able to go mano a mano over the most important issues facing the United States. And I am ready to promote it.”

Trump finally quashed the idea.

“Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and [Democratic National Committee Chairwoman] Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher,” said Trump in a statement Friday. “Likewise, the networks want to make a killing on these events and are not proving to be too generous to charitable causes, in this case, women’s health issues. Therefore, as much as I want to debate Bernie Sanders — and it would be an easy payday — I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

I can’t tell you how much I want this debate to happen. I would have been fine with Sanders and Clinton debating as originally promised. Sadly, Clinton has made that impossible.

From Clinton’s perspective, I suppose I understand why she’s retreating into her shell at this point. The Clintons have made a career of being insular and cagey, and she wanted as few debates as possible to begin with anyway.

On the Sanders and Trump sides, I don’t see a downside. Sanders has nothing to lose, obviously, but neither does Trump. He’s already clinched the nomination, but even if he does poorly, there is only a vanishingly small chance he’ll face anyone but Clinton in the general election.

And if it’s really all about the money, that part has been taken care of by Arum.

For a guy who fancies himself a strongman able to stand up to anyone, it’s telling that Trump tucked his tail between his legs when faced with the actual prospect of having to debate Sanders.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.

TRUMP ON "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!" ON MAY 25:

SANDERS ON "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!" ON THURSDAY:

TRUMP PRESS CONFERENCE IN NORTH DAKOTA ON THURSDAY:

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