Donald Trump, the provocative billionaire businessman and Republican presidential front-runner, says he hopes for a "very civil" debate with other GOP candidates on Thursday night in Cleveland.
“Certainly I don't want to attack. If I'm attacked I have to, you know, do something back, but I'd like it to be very civil,” he said on ABC's “Good Morning America” Wednesday. “I don't want to attack anybody, you know, maybe I'll be attacked and maybe not. I'd rather just discuss the issues.”
Trump has made such promises before. And he's not exactly kept them.
After reassuring party leaders he'd be nice to his fellow Republicans, Trump has gone on sharp-tongued tirades against his opponents. He called Sen. Lindsey Graham an idiot and pranked him on national television. He mocked Rick Perry's glasses. He's attacked Sen. John McCain and Jeb Bush -- not to mention what he's said about Mexican immigrants.
But his comments during his announcement speech about Mexican immigrants, saying some are "rapists" and drug-runners, have drawn strong rebuke from Democrats and immigrant rights groups alike. His rhetoric led Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to call and ask the real-estate tycoon to "tone it down," as the party looks to make inroads with Latino voters -- a key voting bloc -- in the 2016 election.
"I don't think it matters if I'm nice or not, because I really believe this is going to be an election that's based on competence,” Trump explained in early July.
But lately, he's been singing a different tune.
During a separate interview Tuesday night, Trump insisted on Fox News he wants the debate to be "right down the middle."
"I want to talk about policy," he insisted.
In recent weeks, campaign strategists have pondered how to debate Trump.
One adviser to a candidate who will be on stage with Trump Thursday night said that responding to Trump criticism is critical.
“You square your shoulders and respond with purpose," the adviser, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, told The Times. "You don't get down into the mud, but you certainly don't project weakness. He's a bully, and bullies feed upon weakness. You've got to respond in kind but try and maintain presidential good form.”
Still, in several interviews with strategists, many admitted they don't know what to expect.
"Trump's already shown himself to be very unpredictable," said another adviser to a 2016 candidate, "So I think it's impossible to predict what he'll do or say on Thursday night."