Not a punch thrower: Can Trump afford it?

Donald Trump said: I don’t think I’m going to be throwing punches’ at GOP debate. Sounds a bit strange as his campaign is very much based on throwing punches. So at this stage of the campaign how important on unimportant is for Donald Trump to score good in the upcoming GOP TV debate? Read few comments.

James Boys, Associate Professor of International Political Studies, Richmond University (London)

Donald Trump’s entire political career, such as it is , is built around rhetorical bomb throwing, so if he tries to be nice, play polite or debate his fellow Republicans, he will get nowhere. Indeed, his supporters will desert him if he were to do so. His only hope of maintaining any sort of momentum is to continue to be incendiary and leave his fellow Republicans scrambling for airtime, which he will dominate.

If the rest of the GOP candidates try to gang up on him he will use this as evidence that the ‘establishment’ are trying to destroy him. He may use this as en excuse to leave the party and run as a third party candidate, which would split the vote on the right and hand the White House to whoever the Democratic candidate is.

The most important thing to consider here is Trump’s ego, for that is what this is ultimately about.

Rogers Smith, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Associate Dean for Social Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

Donald Trump faces a difficult choice in the debates: his provocative statements have kept him on top of the polls in a very crowded, fragmented field of candidates. But the numbers of primary voters who say they will never support him also keep going up–so it remains almost certain that he cannot be nominated. If that is to change, he must appear more statesmanlike in the debates–not a punch thrower. But if he tries to do that, he may lose his base, which loves him for being outrageous. They want him to throw punches. Trump is not really strategizing his campaign and will do whatever his mood and instincts tell him to do. It will be fun to see!

Brian Frederick, Department Chair, Political Science, Bridgewater State University

I think Trump wants to convey that while he is a straight talker he also takes seriously some Republican concerns that he could damage the eventual presidential. This statement is way of demonstrating that even he recognizes there are limits when it comes to attacking his fellow candidates.

This debate is probably one of the most important for Trump. The audience will be huge and they will be curious to see whether he can deal with policy issues in a serious way. If he can hold his own and get in a few good one liners then he could sustain the momentum he has achieved over the past week for quite a while. If he falters then his critics will pounce and say I told you he wasn’t a serious candidate.

Joshua ClintonProfessor of Political Science, Co-Director for the Center of the Study of Democratic Institutions, Vanderbilt University

Trump’s biggest challenge is to prove that he is a serious contender who should be taken seriously. He is likely the leading Republican candidate among Republican voters because of his high name recognition and the fact that voters who are unhappy with the present state of politics in the United States can express their frustration by voting for someone who is not a politician. Unless he can win the endorsement of Republican leaders and politicians, however, it is hard to see him as being a viable candidate in the long term. Appealing to the mass electorate and appealing to party leaders, likely requires tactics in a debate — while provocative statements have played well with Republican primary voters so far, they have been less successful at establishing his credibility as a serious candidate. Trump’s position is further complicated by the fact that he is leading in the polls which means that the other candidates will be taking aim at him during the debate.

Mark Rozell, Acting Dean and Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University

Front-runners generally don’t attack but rather try to solidify their lead by appearing more statesmanlike. Yes, it is hard for any of us to think of Trump as a statesmanlike figure, but if he is really serious about this run at the presidency he has to get past his shoot-at-the-mouth image and look credible as a level-headed leader. The debate therefore is a good opportunity for him to look more like a real leader and build a better image for himself with voters.

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