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Bernie Sanders accepts Donald Trump's debate 'challenge'

Bernie Sanders won't have an opportunity to debate Hillary Clinton again this year -- but it's time to get ready for his possible debate with Donald Trump.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders participates in the PBS NewsHour debate on Feb. 1, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wis. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders participates in the PBS NewsHour debate on Feb. 1, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wis.
Over the course of the Democratic presidential race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off in 9 debates and 13 forums, each of which were televised nationally. When Sanders recently pushed for yet another showdown -- this time, for some reason, on Fox News -- Clinton surprised no one by declining. The Democratic frontrunner, after all, is gearing up for the general election.
But what about a debate featuring Sanders and that other presidential candidate?

In the latest twist to this unpredictable 2016 presidential race, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders independently agreed Wednesday night to debate each other. On ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Trump was asked if he would consider holding a debate with Sanders.

"Yes, I am," the presumptive Republican nominee replied. "How much is he going to pay me? If I debated him, we would have such high ratings, I think I should take that money and give it to charity."
Soon after, Sanders published a tweet that said, "Game On. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7th primary."
It's probably worth pausing to note this gathering seems unlikely. Trump makes all kinds of odd comments, especially during talk-show appearances, and it's very difficult to know when he's being serious given how little he thinks things through. I don't doubt that Sanders is sincere about his interest in such a debate, but Trump may not be.
Or maybe he is. It's a bizarre year, and unlike most recent election cycles, it's generally a good idea to expect the unexpected.
In case it's not obvious, there's no precedent for anything like this in modern American history. After a major-party candidate wraps up his party's nomination, he's always shifted his attention to the general election, not debating the second-place candidate in the other party who's effectively mathematically eliminated from contention.
Of course, there's also no precedent for a major party nominating a nativist reality-show personality to be president of the United States, so anything's possible.
The question, though, is what the candidates would hope to gain from such an event. For Sanders, a debate like this might mean a high-profile platform for his ideas -- which was originally the point of his presidential candidacy -- and an opportunity to participate in an event in which Hillary Clinton was attacked from both the left and the right at the same time.
For Trump, this rationale for such a debate would be more complicated. He has literally no incentive whatsoever to criticize Sanders, which means the Republican would probably use this opportunity to agree with the senator as much as possible, downplay their differences, make some appeals to some of Sanders' most ardent supporters, and tell the Vermonter how unfairly he's been treated, all while encouraging him to run as an independent.
In other words, for Trump, this debate, were it to happen, would be a historic opportunity to use Sanders to move Trump closer to the Oval Office.