WASHINGTON — Donald Trump wants to debate Hillary Clinton — but he doesn’t want to share the stage with anyone else, not even a debate moderator.
“I think we should have a debate with no moderator, just Hillary and I sitting there talking,” Trump said Monday morning in a phone interview on CNBC.
The novel idea comes a week after a widely panned candidate forum last week in New York City with Matt Lauer left many Clinton supporters angry with host network NBC — and Trump apparently concerned that the Peacock Network will turn now on him.
The first debate is Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, LI. It will be moderated by Lauer’s NBC colleague Lester Holt.
Lauer was criticized by Democrats as being too tough on Clinton, after thoroughly grilling her about her home e-mail server. The “Today” host was also portrayed as being too soft on Trump, after he let the mogul’s incorrect assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the outset go unchallenged.
But Trump said Monday that those criticizing Lauer are seeking to manipulate the presidential debates.
“The fact is, they are gaming the system,” Trump said of the critics. “And I think maybe we should have no moderator. Let Hillary and I sit there and just debate. I think the system is being rigged, so it’s going to be a very unfair debate.”
He added, “I can see it happening right now because everybody was saying, ‘He was soft on Trump,’ and now the new person is going to try and be really hard on Trump just to show the establishment what he can do. I think it’s very unfair what they are doing.”
Trump praised Lauer in his interview with CNBC. “I think he was professional and has been treated unfairly,” he said. “He was not nice to me, and he was tough. I answered them better than she did.”
Meanwhile, Trump made a surprise and uncharacteristically low-key appearance at a nonprofit event in New York City — stopping in very briefly at the BGC Partners Charity Day for a few minutes Monday.
He was invited by Danny Lavecchia, a member of Trump’s golf course in New Jersey and a managing partner of the brokerage, which used to be part of Cantor Fitzgerald.
“He purely came here to raise money for charity, as a friend of mine,” Lavecchia, a Clinton donor, said.
Lavecchia said he intends to vote for Trump now — and will ask for Clinton to return his $2,700 donation.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Rosner