Bernie Sanders' Bold Debate Proposal: 'I'll Debate GOP Candidates Before the Primary'

Bernie Sanders would like to shake up the 2016 presidential campaign by having debates with Republicans before either party select their nominee, he told MSNBC Tuesday.

“I will tell you why… the Republicans get away with murder,” he replied to host Rachel Maddow, when asked about debating Republicans.

“They have an absolutely reactionary agenda,” he said. “They may vary a little bit from this candidate to the other, but basically what these guys are about is huge tax breaks for billionaires, massive cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition, environmental programs. And clearly, some of the Republican candidates, like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, have talked about—they want to cut Social Security.”

“Now they get away with that stuff because a lot of people don’t know what they are talking about,” Sanders continued, making the case for debates. “If we can confront them and debate issues, rather than allow the media to get into political gossip and polling and fundraising, but talk about the issues, I think their agenda does not reflect more than 15 or 20 percent of the American people.”

Sanders call for Democrats debating Republican candidates before the General Election is a refreshing idea—and one that has not been seen in decades of presidential campaigns. Whether or not that will actually happen is a bit more complicated. Usually, frontrunners in any party try to ignore other candidates who challenge them to debates, because they don’t want to undermine their leads.

But what makes the 2016 presidential campaign a bit different is that there are so many Republicans running that some of the middle-tier candidates might see it as a plus to try to take on Sanders. On the other hand, it’s not clear that Sanders would want to debate back-benchers like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal or ex-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. He gets to debate Sens. Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Rand Paul, R-KY, in the U.S. Senate.    

Alison Moore, the Republican National Committee’s press secretary, did not return a request for a comment.

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