Get ready for a GOP smackdown: Trump vows to "hit harder" if opponents attack him during debate

Trump explains his campaign strategy: "First thing is to focus totally" on GOP opponents

Published August 3, 2015 3:11PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/L.e. Baskow)
(Reuters/L.e. Baskow)

Donald Trump refuses to rule out a potential third party bid should his rise to the top of the Republican presidential primary field eventually end without clinching the nomination, but the real estate mogul says he won't go down without a fight.

Trump complained of his treatment by his fellow Republicans during an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week" previewing the upcoming first Republican primary debate.

"I don't think I'm going to be throwing punches," Trump predicted before quickly seeking to justify his Republican-on-Republican attacks. "I mean, they attacked me first," Trump said of his Republican opponents. "The fact is that I’ve been attacked pretty viciously by some of these guys.”

“I’m not looking to attack them,” Trump insisted again before vowing to "hit them back and maybe even harder than they hit me” during the debate in Cleveland, Ohio this Thursday.

“I didn’t start the attacks,” he explained. “But I have been attacked and I counter punch.”

Trump called into Fox News' "Fox & Friends" this morning to explain his political strategy of targeting Republicans. "My first thing is to focus totally on the people we have now," Trump explained, adding that his "thought process is totally on them."

So far, Trump has called fellow Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham an "idiot" before publicly disclosing his personal cell phone number at a rally in the GOP Senator's home state of South Carolina. Trump's mocked former Republican Governor Rick Perry's eyeglasses and intelligence, saying, "he put on glasses so people will think he's smart. And it just doesn't work! You know people can see through the glasses!" And Trump's taken his attacks on Jeb Bush personal, questioning the former Florida Governor's opposition to illegal immigration due to his wife's Mexican background. Trump has also assailed Scott Walker's record as governor of Wisconsin.

Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus, who previously asked every GOP candidate to rule out a potential third party run, said in a recent interview that “the name-calling has got to stop from everywhere,” arguing that the intra-party bickering "doesn’t get us closer to beating Hillary Clinton."

“We just want our folks to concentrate on what they should do to make our country better,” Preibus added before explaining that "when there are that many people running, our role at the RNC is to remain neutral,” he said.

“It’s also not our role to get too far in the weeds calling balls and strikes and commenting on every comment,” Preibus argued, declining to publicly chastise Trump after earlier appeals urging Trump to "tone it down" went unheeded.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Elections Donald Trump Gop Civil War Republicans