Donald Trump speaks to the media during a press conference on the 1st first day of the Women's British Open golf championship on the Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, Thursday, July 30, 2015.
Donald Trump speaks to the media during a press conference on the 1st first day of the Women's British Open golf championship on the Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, Thursday, July 30, 2015.

Billionaire Donald Trump has jumped into a big lead in the Republican presidential race, according to the latest Quinnipiac University national poll.  Trump led all contenders with 20 percent, followed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at 13 percent and former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 10 percent.

Now, 20 percent may not sound like much, but consider this: Trump’s tally is the largest for any of the Republican contenders so far this year in any of the Quinnipiac surveys.  The Republican field has now grown to 17 with former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore having filed his official paperwork for a presidential run with the Federal Election Commission.

All of the national, credible polls carry great significance now because they will determine who is in and who is out of the first Republican debate to be held next Thursday in Cleveland.  Fox News is carrying the debate and will determine who is eligible for the debate based on the top 10 performers in the five latest national polls, which includes the Quinnipiac survey.

As of now, some big Republican names are in danger of not making the cut for the first debate including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Texas governor Rick Perry.

Debate a major test

The debate is shaping up to be a key early moment in the 2016 campaign and much of the suspense will focus on Trump.  Trump took a break from the campaign to make an appearance at a women’s golf tournament in Scotland, and he told the Associated Press he was delighted by the recent polls documenting his rise.  “I expect to be president,” he said.

Trump has surged in the polls of late despite criticism of both the substance and style of some of his rhetoric.  Trump slammed Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists” in his announcement speech and later said he did not think Senator John McCain was a war hero because he had been held captive during the Vietnam War.

So what is the secret to Trump’s success?  MSNBC television ran excerpts from a voter focus group in the early voting state of New Hampshire conducted by Bloomberg News.  Several of those asked about Trump confirmed that he has been able to tap into anger and frustration with Washington and the state of U.S. politics in general.  Among the voter comments:  “He speaks the truth.  When he talks about especially immigration control and the border, he doesn’t care what people think.”  Also this:  “He’s honest and I like his roughness and he’s a little Reagan-esque.”

Voters also said they liked that Trump is wealthy and therefore not dependent on campaign contributions and that he does not come across like a politician.

The latest Quinnipiac poll, however, also contains a warning sign for Trump.  Pollster Tim Malloy noted that 30 percent of Republicans surveyed would not support him under any circumstances, by far the highest number for any of the Republican contenders.  “They love him and the hate him,” Malloy said in a statement accompanying the Quinnipiac poll.  “Donald Trump triumphs on the stage so far, but do voters really want him?  Maybe not so much.”  On that score we may know a bit more after next Thursday’s debate.

Attack Trump or ignore him?

The Trump surge is pushing his rivals to go to great lengths to get noticed.  Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina both released offbeat videos in the hope of grabbing some of the spotlight.  Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee did grab some attention with his comment that he thought President Barack Obama was “naïve” to trust Iran in the recent nuclear accord, which he said “would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven,” a reference to the Holocaust that drew widespread condemnation.

Trump figures to be center-stage in next week’s debate.  But what do his rivals do?  Attack him?  Ignore him and argue their own case?  Republican strategist Karl Rove, the political guru to former president George W. Bush, had some tips in his latest column in The Wall Street Journal.  Rove wrote that the contenders must be mindful of how they come across not only with what they say, but how they say it, “tone and demeanor.”  Rove also cautioned about going on the attack.  “An unprovoked aggressor may damage his target but is likely to hurt himself more in the process,” he wrote.  “Television is a ‘cool medium', so most times being hot in a debate is bad.”

Trump told reporters he is unsure about his debate prospects.  “I don’t know if I’m going to be good.  I’ve never done it before.  Politicians do it every night.”

Then again, Trump is no stranger to television, having hosted both “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice.”  Trump was known for dismissing contestants with his trademark line, “You’re fired!”  So far that phrase does not seem to be on the mind of many Republican voters as they size up the 2016 Republican field.