As ChickenTrump goes viral on Twitter in response to Donald Trump’s refusal to debate Bernie Sanders, the presumptive GOP nominee may have just blown the chance he had of pulling in the “Bernie or Bust” crowd who had vowed never to vote for Hillary Clinton.
The ChickenTrump hashtag grew almost immediately in response to Trump’s statement that he would not be debating, an idea he had publicly toyed with in the last few days. The idea arose after frontrunner Hillary Clinton turned down the Sanders camp’s request for a final debate before the California primary, one she had agreed to earlier in the campaign.
Spurred by the refusal by Hillary Clinton, many Sanders supporters latched onto the hope that a debate against the Republican nominee would allow Sanders to show his potential strength in the general election. That has been a major argument for the Vermont Senator as he tries to woo the superdelegates who would be able to put him over the top and potentially steal the nomination from Hillary Clinton, and to them the event would have been a key part of that strategy.
Hillary Clinton had already expressed doubt that the event would come together, earning more scorn among Bernie supporters who looked at it as their chance to gain an edge in a race Hillary had run away with in the recent series of primaries.
Instead, Trump issued a dismissive statement late on Friday afternoon saying he would not participate after all. Bernie supporters in response took to Twitter, making the ChickenTrump hashtag go viral.
Some of those supporters lashed out in anger, while others posted ChickenTrump memes prodding the real estate mogul.
— TheFOO (@PolitiBunny) May 27, 2016
— ChickenDonaldTrump (@chicken_trump) May 27, 2016
— #ForThePeople (@BernieVolunteer) May 27, 2016
The campaign itself helped push the ChickenTrump movement, releasing a statement mocking the real estate mogul.
“It may be that there may be some chickening out, or an unwillingness to stand on stage and really debate with Bernie because they know Bernie Sanders would do quite well on the debate frankly,” noted campaign manager Jeff Weaver.
Others in the ChickenTrump movement criticized the presumptive Republican nominee for seemingly backing out on the charities he had vowed to support. In floating the idea of the debate, Trump said he would only do it if the hosting network would contribute $10 million or $15 million to a women’s health charity. Though there were reportedly offers as high as $20 million, he still backed out.
While the ChickenTrump trend may be an immediate knock against Trump, there could be more long-term damage to his hopes of winning over the so-called “Bernie or Bust” crowd. Though Sanders aligns more closely with Hillary Clinton on virtually every issue, Clinton’s dismissive campaign and a Democratic primary seemingly tilted against Sanders turned many of his supporters off to Clinton and off to the Democratic Party establishment that she represented.
— MiamiGator (@GatorsEite23) May 27, 2016
The GOP nominee had been making strides to win over these “Bernie or Bust” voters, making frequent mentions that he believed the primary was unfairly rigged toward Hillary Clinton.
The overtures appeared to be working. Discontent with Clinton was high among Sanders supporters, especially those making their voices heard online. The New York Times recently interviewed a group of these voters who articulated their support for Trump over Clinton.
“Everyone is like: ‘Trump has these terrible social issues. He hates Muslims and he hates the L.G.B.T. community,'” said Jackie Becerra. “But our world is big enough that he’s not actually going to implement any of those changes in a realistic way. But what he will do is potentially audit the federal government, and he will try to break up some of the banks and try to at least influence government that way. However, with Hillary, it will just be a complacent, run-of-the-middle-of-the-road presidency.”
But the ChickenTrump movement shows that this work may have been undone, and Donald Trump just alienated what could have been a key demographic in his bid to win the presidency.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]