Donald Trump intends to be nice and respectful to the other candidates when they take their place on the stage on his either side at the first Republican debate this Thursday.
That’s his intention. But no one quite expects him to be nice, given his history. He gave out a rival’s cell number at a rally, for instance, introducing doxxing to presidential race.
The real estate tycoon has been brash — called illegals rapists; combative — called a rival “idiot”; rude — to some reporters; and irreverent — trashed John McCain’s status as a war hero.
But, above all for poll watchers and pundits, he has been surging in polls. Trump, 69, leads his closest rival by seven points in an aggregate of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics.
This is massive in a 17-member race, and it has survived his comments about McCain, which most observers felt, would be the start of Trump’s short-lived surge. He has thrived instead.
Trump, who likes to celebrate his poll conquests in hyperbolic tweets, seems surprised by his own rise. “Wow, some new and even greater polls--thank you!” he tweeted on Friday.
Sceptics and critics in the Republican party and outside who had earlier dismissed him as a “clown”, “entertainer” and a “non-serious candidate” are re-editing themselves.
A leading conservative critic who had dismissed Trump as a “complete waste of time” till just a few days ago, for instance, now believes the coming debate will be all about Trump.
It will be indeed. To win now the field down to a manageable number Fox News, which will telecast the first debate, set the rules that are likely to become industry standards.
The top 10 in aggregated polls will make it to the prime time debate slot, and the rest seven will be confined to battling out in a lesser kids-table format earlier in the day.
Other networks may follow the same format.
Democrats, on the other hand, have still to announce their format and criterion for their debates. There are only six in the race so far, a fairly manageable number in comparison.
The Republicans are on, meanwhile.
And Trump is expected to come after former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who because of his name and all that comes with it, has become the prized trophy for the mantlepiece.
Trump needs it, to seal his claim as frontrunner, which he has been denied despite his surging poll numbers, because his party, its leadership, its donors remain unconvinced.
He tried to fix this problem in his own typical fashion by hinting coyly that if the party didn’t treat him well, he wasn’t beyond going rogue as an independent candidate.
That was a 911 (100 in India) call from him, and for the party.
Republicans lost the White House in 1992 when George H W Bush, the sitting president, lost the race because of a like-minded third party candidate Ross Perot.
Democrat Bill Clinton squeezed past in a three-corner fight that saw for the first time in American history the defeat of a war-time president (Bush had launched and won Gulf War I).
“Third party run will be disastrous for Republicans,” said Christopher Bedford, senior editor at The Daily Caller, a conservative online news publication.
Clinton is now so close to the elder Bush that he is often spoken of as the fourth “Bush brother”. But that doesn’t get his wife, Hillary Clinton, a pass from the Bush family.
Jeb Bush’s main challenger will be Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, but Trump, the man whose maddening rise is redefining presidential races, is this current headache.
Many still believe, rather expect, Trump will not last the distance. But he has surprised both friends and foes so far, and as he takes centerstage on Thursday, he is very much at the top.