How an off-the-cuff remark from Donald Trump could lead to the 'debate of the century'

Donald Trump made a seemingly nonchalant, off-the-cuff remark about holding a debate with Bernie Sanders.during his interview with Jimmy Kimmel earlier this week.

Trump told the host of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that he was prepared to face off against Sanders after Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton turned down an invitation to debate her primary rival ahead of the June 7 California primary.

“Yes I am — how much is he going to pay me?” Trump quipped.

“If we paid a nice sum for the charity, I would love to do that,” he added.

Few people apparently took the comment seriously — aside from Sanders himself.

“Game on,” he tweeted minutes later. “I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary.”

Now, the political world has been graced with nearly 36 hours of a surreal back and forth over whether the potential “debate of the century,” as dubbed by The Drudge Report on Friday, could actually happen.

Sanders and his campaign have turned up the heat on Trump, trying to goad the mogul into a debate the Vermont senator, while Trump himself has continued to fuel the speculation.

“We are ready to debate Donald Trump,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday. “We hope he will not chicken out.”

“I think it will be great for America to see these two candidates and the different visions they have for America going forward,” he continued. “What we’ll have to see, Wolf, is does Donald Trump have the courage to get on the stage with Bernie Sanders. That remains to be seen.”

Sanders also said Thursday that he “can’t wait” to debate Trump on jobs, taxes, and climate change.

“I am very excited about it,” Sanders told a crowd at a Ventura, California, rally on Thursday.

Trump, sensing a media firestorm over the potential debate, left the door wide open to the face-off after his campaign reportedly attempted to brush the remark off as a joke earlier Thursday.

“I’d love to debate Bernie. He’s a dream,” the Manhattan billionaire said during a news conference in Bismarck, North Dakota. “If we can raise for maybe women’s health issues or something. If we can raise $10 or $15 million for charity, which would be a very appropriate amount.”

“I understand the television business very well,” he continued. “I think it would get high ratings.”

He even went as far to say that his team was in discussions with multiple networks about hosting the debate.

“It should be in a big arena somewhere,” Trump said. “And we can have a lot of fun with it.”

As fate would have it, Sanders was scheduled for an appearance on Kimmel’s show Thursday night, one day after Trump’s off-hand proposal.

The Vermont senator thanked Kimmel for asking his original question.

“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.

A theoretical Sanders-Trump debate comes as a risk for Clinton and for Democrats as a whole, as it could potentially diminish her standing at a time when she stands to become the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Mathematically, it is nearly impossible for Sanders to seize the Democratic nomination.

“I don’t think it’s serious,” Clinton said Thursday when asked about the potential debate.

Clinton has started to insist that there’s no question she’ll be her party’s nominee, telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo last week “that is already done.”

On Kimmel’s show, Sanders said that remark had “a tinge” of “arrogance.” Sanders has insisted that he will take the primary fight all the way to the floor of the Democratic National Convention in July.

Trump, for his part, has attempted to build up Sanders’ candidacy since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee earlier this month. He has made it a recent talking point that the primary system is “rigged” against Sanders, and he has implored Sanders to run as an independent, which would certainly benefit Trump’s candidacy.

“The problem with debating Bernie is he’s going to lose,” Trump said in North Dakota. “Because honestly his system is rigged.”

Sanders responded with a laugh to Kimmel about Trump’s “concern.”

“Let me tell Mr. Trump: I really do appreciate his concern for me,” he said. “I know that comes straight from his heart.”

“But tell him that what I hope will happen is that, in fact, I will run against him as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, and if I do, we’re going to beat him and beat him bad,” he continued. “You can tell him that.”

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