Donald Trump’s Republican rivals are preparing for a critical televised debate this week by sharpening their attacks on the bombastic billionaire who has dominated the rollicking presidential primary contest.
For all the Republican hopefuls, the CNN debate on Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California the last chance for several weeks to claim the national spotlight. Pope Francis is poised to eclipse national politics with his tour of the western hemisphere and Congress faces serious decisions about whether to fund or close the government.
Donald Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, is soaring past uproars that would have sunk other candidates. Although the first nominating votes aren’t until next year, Republican leaders and establishment figures have been unnerved to see Trump’s national poll numbers rise to rival leading Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. They fear Trump’s incendiary comments about women and Mexicans could tarnish the Republican brand and undermine their hopes for regaining the White House after President Barack Obama’s eight years in office.
Among Republicans, still-early surveys suggested that the reality TV star has more support than the trio that had been expected to lead the race: Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Marco Rubio combined.
”There will probably be more elbows thrown,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Sunday on CNN’s ”State of the Union.” ”There’s not enough hard cash to go around to pay campaigns in these states in order to keep 17 candidates alive.”
”Someone has to bring him down,” Sen. Rand Paul told The Associated Press last week. ”I’m not going to sit quietly by and let the disaster that is Donald Trump become the nominee.”
Donald Trump has roiled the race with caustic comments about criminals coming from Mexico and women coming to have ”anchor babies,” who are guaranteed U.S. citizenship. Trump has proposed building a border wall and deporting all of the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally, before allowing the ”good ones” to return.
People of Mexican descent make up nearly two-thirds of the estimated 54 million Hispanics in the U.S., a rapidly growing demographic that Republicans are trying hard to woo. Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama in the past two presidential elections.
Over the weekend, Donald Trump’s rivals tested attacks on Trump’s credibility and his smash-mouth style.
”Mr. Trump says that I can’t speak Spanish,” Bush, speaking Spanish, told supporters Saturday in Miami. ”Pobrecito (poor guy).”
And Carly Fiorina, whose face Donald Trump ridiculed in a Rolling Stone interview, tried dismissal.
”Donald Trump is an entertainer,” she told reporters in New Hampshire. Leadership is not ”about how big your office is, it’s not about how big your airplane, your helicopter or your ego is,” she added in another appearance. Fiorina will get a chance to tangle with Trump in the upcoming debate, after missing the cut in the first debate.
On Friday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the leading anti-Trump voice among the Republican contenders, became the first candidate to drop his troubled bid for the nomination.
Trump is showing signs that he’s aware of the growing target on his back. On the eve of Wednesday’s debate, Trump is expected to deliver an address on national security and veterans’ issues. In a few weeks, there will be more policy, Trump said, when he releases a plan to reduce taxes.
For now, he’s firing back.
”Lightweight Senator (at)RandPaul should focus on trying to get elected in Kentucky – a great state which is embarrassed by him,” Trump tweeted late Saturday. ”I truly understood the appeal of Ron Paul, but his son, (at)RandPaul, didn’t get the right gene.”
Meanwhile, Obama planned to spend the afternoon in Iowa, the state that kicks off next year’s nominating contests and will be instrumental in winnowing down the 2016 primary field and ultimately picking a president in the general election.
Officially, Obama will be in Iowa for a back-to-school bus tour and to announce a change to the university financial aid system. But the visit also allows Obama to make an imprint on the 2016 race, arguing for Democratic priorities and drawing a contrast with the numerous Republican candidates blanketing the state.
Follow Laurie Kellman on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APLaurieKellman
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