Donald Trump will not be debating Bernie Sanders after all, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee announced Friday, but he was nothing but complimentary to the senator from Vermont at a rally in San Diego.
Trump had provisionally agreed to debate Sanders, but announced Friday afternoon in a news release that it would be inappropriate to debate the second-place candidate in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. It prompted a quick retort from Sanders, who was also in California ahead of the state's June 7 primary.
Trump didn't mention the debate at the rally an hour later, but said Sanders is great and decried political pundits for counting him out after he wins Democratic primaries.
"He doesn't have a chance and what he's doing to [Hillary Clinton] is incredible," Trump exclaimed.
While he showered praises on San Diego for its good weather and love for veterans, outside the San Diego Convention Center some in a crowd of about 1,000 people appeared to clash with police. At least 35 people were arrested, and police broke up the assembly.
Sanders was in the Los Angeles area Friday — the June 7 primary in California could make or break the Democratic primary — and when he was told of Trump's announcement, NBC News reported he said, "Well, Mr. Trump what are you afraid of?"
"Why do you not want to see a debate here in California and obviously all across this country on why you think it is a good idea to be trying to divide up our people, to be scapegoating Mexicans, and Latinos, and Muslims, and women, and veterans, and African Americans?" Sanders said at the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.
In provisionally accepting Sanders' proposed debate, Trump had required that the hosting TV network put up millions of dollars for charity. But Trump said Friday that networks "are not proving to be too generous to charitable causes," and that "it seems inappropriate" to debate the Democrats' second-place finisher, since Hillary Clinton has all but locked up enough delegates to win her party's nomination as well.
Trump laid Sanders' likely loss in the primaries at the feet of a "totally rigged" Democratic primary process.
"Our system was rigged too, except for one thing — if you win by massive landslides every week, it's no longer rigged," Trump said at the rally.
Trump's statement in full:
Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. 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.
Representatives for Fox News, ABC News and CBS News had said the networks were interested in hosting a Trump-Sanders showdown but would not comment on whether they'd be willing to put up the $10 million Trump is demanding for women's health causes.
Sanders' Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell Thursday there were "back channel discussion" starting for a debate with Trump, and hoped "that his handlers don't dissuade him or that he doesn't sort of chicken out on this."