The unexpected political rise of outspoken billionaire Donald Trump has shaken up Republican presidential politics and his rivals are looking to strike back as they gather for their second debate late Wednesday [0001 GMT Thursday] in California.
Trump has led the crowded Republican field in recent polls, but a CBS News/New York Times poll this week showed fellow outsider Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no political experience, closing the gap. Trump has 27 per cent support in the survey to Carson’s 23 per cent.
Jeb Bush, once considered the likely frontrunner, lags far behind, tied in a distant third with support from just 6 per cent of Republican primary voters.
Several of Trump’s Republican rivals have indicated they plan to take on “The Donald” in the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, north of Los Angeles.
Concern within the Republican Party has grown as Trump has continued to rise despite inflammatory remarks that many fear could damage the centre-right party’s brand ahead of November 2016 general elections.
Other Republicans seeking the party’s nomination for president have begun to take on Trump, with Bush noting Trump’s previous support for the rival Democratic Party, and others dismissing him as an entertainer without substance.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is drawing less than 1 per cent in most polls, last week called Trump an “egomaniacal madman” who would ensure that Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected president.
Trump caused waves in the first debate last month when he refused to rule out running for president as a third party candidate – a move that would surely hurt Republican chances of recapturing the White House. He has since signed a pledge vowing to support the party’s nominee.