When the top 10 Republican candidates for president take the stage Thursday night in Cleveland for the first debate of this election cycle, all eyes will be on Donald Trump, the candidate who is leading the polls and appears to be winning the media war.
Though Trump has so far released the private cell phone number of one of his competitors and been criticized by others for his harsh tone on the campaign trail, the real estate mogul says he wants this debate to remain “civil.”
“I don’t want to attack anybody and maybe I’ll be attacked and maybe not,” Trump said today in a phone interview on “Good Morning America.” “I’d rather just discuss the issues.”
“If I’m attacked I have to, you know, do something back, but I’d like it to be very civil,” he said.
Those two candidates, along with five others, have been relegated by their low poll numbers to participating in a one-hour forum set to take place four hours before the main debate hosted by Fox News.
“I was very honored to see that two men who really did attack me very viciously actually, and I only attacked back after they started, but they went down very substantially,” Trump said. “In fact, Lindsey Graham went down to zero so the voters were fantastic as far as I’m concerned.”
Trump, leading the GOP field with 23 percent support, says he believes he will be the “target” at the debate, but contends his bold statements on the campaign trail about everything from immigration to America’s position in the world are not preying on voters’ fears, as his competitor, Jeb Bush, has claimed.
“Not at all,” Trump said in response to Bush. “Our country is in trouble. Politicians have driven us into the ground.”
“They don’t know what they’re doing,” he added. “They’re certainly good at getting elected and after they get elected they don’t do anything.”
Trump argued that his statements on the campaign trail back up the theme of his campaign, “Make America Great Again.”
“And the word again is a very important word because now we’re second to China. We’re going down further,” Trump said. “We’re 25th in the world in education. You look at education, I mean, we have third-world nations that do better than we do and yet we spend far more per student than any other country in the world."
“We’re just going down in so many ways,” he added. “I was very proud to bring up the illegal immigration and I took a lot of heat the first week and now everybody is saying I was right and they’re apologizing to me and it’s become a major point, which I’m very proud of. It’s a disaster for our country.”
Trump cited one of his main foes on immigration, Sen. John McCain, as one of the “politicians in Washington” who has let down another constituency he is focusing his campaign on: veterans.
“The politicians, you mentioned McCain, the politicians in Washington have let the vets down,” Trump said. “They’ve never had longer waits than they had as of last Wednesday. They measured it last Wednesday, the waits for the vets, waiting for doctors, is the longest that they’ve ever had.”
“I will take care of our vets and I will take care of our military,” he said. “We will be so strong that people will not mess with us.”
If any of Trump’s fellow contenders mess with him during the debate with the jab that he is a flip-flopper for having described himself in the past as being liberal on social issues, Trump is ready with a comparison to Republican icon Ronald Reagan.
“I’ve evolved like a lot of other people. Ronald Reagan evolved," Trump said of the late president. "He was sort of a liberal guy actually as a younger man and he became a Republican and he did very well. I have great respect for him. I helped him. I knew him. He liked me and I liked him.”
“I think everybody on that stage has changed positions on different things,” Trump said of his fellow contenders. “But I’ve always been very tough on some very important issues.”