Bernie Sanders wanted another debate with Hillary Clinton, on Fox News, ahead of the California primary, but Hillary took a hard pass. During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show, Donald Trump said he would be willing to debate Bernie instead. Bernie’s response? “Game on.” Problem for Bernie is that Donald later said he was joking.

UPDATE: Now Donald says that he will debate Bernie, but only if certain conditions are met: That they raise millions of dollars for charity and debate in an arena. That Bernie’s campaign would continue to treat this seriously, after Donald made him look a fool earlier in the day, further reinforces the notion that Bernie is being used as a pawn in Donald’s game.

Donald is terrified to face Hillary alone, so he is trying to recruit Bernie for his strategy of using men as a shield from a straightforward confrontation with Hillary. Bernie should never have let himself be drawn into this mess, and he surely shouldn’t continue to indulge the absurd stunts of a cowardly buffoon.

UPDATE 2: Rachel Maddow weighs in on the absurdity of the debate idea.

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Donald claims it was all a joke.

Maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t: After all, Donald has made it clear that he is terrified of facing Hillary alone, which is why he has been encouraging Bernie to mount a third-party run.

But it doesn’t matter, because Bernie took the bait. And now Donald has made him look foolish.

Certainly, part of Bernie’s decision to agree with this nonsense was that he estimated a debate with the Republican nominee would keep breathing continued life into his absurd contention that he still has a path to the Democratic nomination.

But the fact that he didn’t see he was being baited, or how he’d end up the butt of the joke, shows how truly out of his depth he is. It’s a glimpse of what a general election match-up between Bernie and Trump would look like, and it isn’t a good look for Bernie.

And let’s be really frank about the other reason Bernie agreed to it: This stunt was a response to Hillary saying no.

Hillary Clinton

Bernie wanted a California debate with her, and she didn’t bite. She drew a boundary, and, instead of accepting that boundary, Bernie figured he’d conspire with Donald to try to coerce her into doing what he wants.

I have a real problem with that.

Hillary, a number of people have (erroneously) argued, has somehow transcended the strictures and indignities of systemic gender equality, by virtue of her success. But one cannot shed one’s womanhood at will (even if one wanted to)—and here is a perfect example of how no woman, not even one of the most empowered women in the world, can shed the rules imposed on women.

Frankly, the fact that Hillary has achieved a level of visibility, power, and influence that few women ever have makes me all the more furious that two men are still trying to show, “jokingly” or seriously, they can gang up to push her around at will, that they don’t respect her agency or her right to say no.

The message to women and girls is appalling. No matter how successful you are, men will still try to assert control over you and cajole you into doing their bidding. You are not allowed to say no.

By every conceivable metric, Bernie failed this test. Badly.

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)