In remarks that underscored the risks of attacking the maverick real-estate mogul too aggressively, Trump also warned that he would “counterpunch” just as hard if his opponents chose to make the debate in Cleveland personal.
Tensions have erupted in recent days, after Kentucky senator Rand Paul attributed Trump’s surprise lead in recent opinion polls to a “temporary loss of sanity” among Republican primary voters and former Texas governor Rick Perry claimed his impact on the race represented a “cancer” on conservatism.
Paul doubled down in an interview on Sunday, telling CNN there needed to be a more serious debate rather than “empty talk”. New Jersey governor Chris Christie also criticised “hyperbole” from other rightwingers such as Ted Cruz, who has accused the White House of sponsoring terrorism, and Mike Huckabee, who said the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran would lead Jewish people to the gas chamber.
Yet Christie, who has fallen behind in recent polling, also resorted to threatening metaphors when he added in the same CNN interview that the national teachers’ union deserved to be “punched in the face”.
Amid growing rancour among Republican presidential candidates ahead of their crowded first debate on Thursday, current frontrunner Donald Trump on Sunday threatened to consider running as an independent if he was not “treated fairly” by the party.