(I dashed this off late last night (or early that morning, actually) and then before I posted it, word came down that The Donald don’t debate with no losers. So the great Trump-Sanders confrontation never happened. But here is my analysis anyway.)
I think the reason that Trump is considering debating Sanders is that he knows it will get him some of Sanders’ votes after Hillary is nominated. Sanders’ angry young white male supporters are ripe for the picking. Trump will wind up with maybe 20% of them in November. Maybe more. None of the female Sanders supporters, but a fat slice of the men. It’ll vary by state. Probably fewer from California, not that it matters. But lots from West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Florida…states where the race will be tight and the impact of those voters switching from Sanders to Trump could be decisive. Remember that 44% of Sanders male voters in West Virginia said they plan to vote for Trump in November. West Virginia is doubtless an extreme example. But 25% of Sanders’ Millennial males in Ohio, where races tend to be extremely close, could turn the state.
The angry Millennial men voting for Sanders are not a monolithic bloc. Most will vote against Trump–over 50% anyway–but maybe 40% will vote for Trump simply because he will shake things up. Men tend to vote for other men, more often Republican than Democratic men, and are suckers for an angry man. Reagan got most of that vote in 1980, including a lot of liberal Democrats, Nixon got the men’s vote in ’72, and a George Wallace got nearly 20% of Gene McCarthy’s vote in 1968, again mostly men.
And keep that in mind, this debate would be a brilliant coup by Trump. The Bernie Sanders movement is not immune to Trumpmania. There is an element among them–white men, nearly all of them, mainly young white men–to whom a crazy macho guy like Trump is exciting. You may think he’s an idiot. I may think he’s an idiot. But for a great many of us dudes, Donald Trump is somebody who can shake things up.
As the campaign heads into the fall, I think one of the top stories will be that large bloc of Bernie voters who, like the 27% of Kennedy voters in 1980, will say they will vote for Trump because he will shake things up. And in fact, for such an event not to happen, Millennials will have to be completely different from their equivalents in 1980 and 1968. To preclude the prospect of a huge number of Bernie voters becoming Trump voters you have to assume that the almost 90% of Bernie Sanders supporters among Millennials will vote as a solid bloc in November, something that has never happened before in American electoral history, ever. Far more likely is that at least a quarter of them will vote for a populist Republican.
It’s important to remember that white men almost always vote for the conservative, and by a large margin. And they will vote for Trump, by a considerable margin. Bernie must have his reasons for offering to debate Trump–it was his idea, he slipped the question to Jimmy Kimmel–but Bernie will not stomp Trump in the debate. He might score points, and his supporters would love it, but he won’t dominate Trump as we wish somebody could for once. It’s a Hail Mary pass, though, probably scoring Bernie a few points in California, but in the long run Trump benefits more. Bernie is looking to pull off an impossible upset at the convention. Trump is looking at all those angry young men who will vote for him in November.