Since entering the presidential race, Donald Trump has been Godzilla in a china shop, attacking Republicans and Democrats alike, stirring the national debate and, according to a poll released Tuesday, soaring to the head of a crowded Republican field of candidates.
The business tycoon and reality television personality got into a Twitter war this week with a Mexican drug cartel chief and was singled out by Democratic presidential candidates as “hate-spewing” for his comments criticizing the flow of immigrants from Mexico.
Mr. Trump brushed aside the criticism, saying Hillary Rodham Clinton’s demand that he zip it was just more evidence that he is saying the right things and she is scared to face him.
“She is desperate, she is sad, and she is obviously very nervous when she has to revert to issues that have already been settled given the absolute accuracy of my statement,” Mr. Trump said in a statement Tuesday.
In his announcement speech last month at the Trump Hotel in New York, Mr. Trump said his personal fortune shielded him from the donors and power brokers in Washington, giving him the political autonomy to say and do what he wants.
Accordingly, in that same speech, Mr. Trump said Mexico is sending rapists and drug runners into the United States.
The comments sparked a controversy that continues to unfold on the campaign trail, where Republicans have been badgered with questions about Mr. Trump.
“Whether it’s Donald Trump or Barack Obama, their rhetoric of divisiveness is wrong,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said during a stop in Iowa on Tuesday. “A Republican will never win by striking fear in people’s hearts.”
NBC and Univision, the largest Spanish-speaking television station, cut ties with Mr. Trump, announcing that they would not air the Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants he runs. Macy’s retail stores also parted ways with Mr. Trump, who had a signature line of clothing sold in the chain.
Mr. Trump’s response? He doubled down on his claims about Mexico and said it was he who ended the relationships with NBC and Macy’s — not the other way around.
“I have also continually stated that I am not beholden to anyone, and this includes NBC and Macy’s,” he said. “Clearly, NBC and Macy’s support illegal immigration, which is totally detrimental to the fabric of our once great country.”
He also dismissed a report in The Washington Post that said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus asked Mr. Trump several times to “tone it down.”
“Totally false reporting on my call with @Reince Priebus. He called me, ten minutes, said I hit a ‘nerve’, doing well, end!” Mr. Trump wrote in a Twitter message.
Some tea partyers and party activists are relishing Mr. Trump’s early performance. They say he is speaking truths that politicians are afraid to address and shining a light on the important issue of illegal immigration.
A USA Today/Suffolk University national poll released Tuesday showed Mr. Trump surging to the top of the Republican nomination race, providing yet more evidence that he is well on his way to taking part in the first Republican-sanctioned debate next month, which is limited to 10 participants.
His 17 percent support leads the 14 percent for Mr. Bush, whose brother and father were presidents. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is third with 7 percent support in the poll.
The poll was released a day after Mr. Trump got into a Twitter shouting match with Mexico’s biggest drug kingpin, Joaquin Guzman Loera, also known as El Chapo, who escaped from prison over the weekend. It’s the second such escape for Guzman, and Mr. Trump said it was more proof of his claim that corruption in Mexico is hurting the United States.
“Can you envision Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton negotiating with ‘El Chapo’, the Mexican drug lord who escaped from prison?” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “Trump, however, would kick his ass!”
Mr. Trump also asserted that the media were starting to report what he had been saying all along: that most of the cocaine in the United States was coming over the border.
The son of “El Chapo” apparently took note and threatened Mr. Trump via Twitter.
Mr. Trump called on the FBI to investigate the threat, according to news reports, but signaled that he plans to stand his ground against all foes — both foreign and domestic.
“I’m fighting for much more than myself,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “I’m fighting for the future of our country, which is being overrun by criminals. You can’t be intimidated. This is too important.”