Some 14 Republicans who want to be US president on Monday kicked off a week of political drama when they took part in a forum in New Hampshire where they confronted questions from the public.
Mr Trump, the outspoken businessman who has soared to the top of current polls of Republican possibles, declined to take part after he was criticised by one of the media organisations hosting the event, but Monday’s forum was the first chance for the public to see so many candidates in one place.
As it was, 11 of the 14 were there in person while three – Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, took part by video because of their need to be present for a controversial vote in Washington DC.
All of the questions put to the candidates by moderator Jack Heath, a local broadcaster, had been provided by members of the public.
The first of the candidates to be questioned – the order was worked out in advance by means of a draw – was former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Mr Perry was asked about the challenge of immigration.
“The American people don’t trust Washington DC to deal with immigration until we secure the border,” he said at the event, broadcast live on C-Span.
“What compelled you to run?” Heath asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “How do you run for president and tell the truth about entitlement reform?” Heath asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Heath asked the same entitlement question to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker but added that “some critics will say you’re anti-senior, anti-kid, anti-human.”
There was a second round of questions that was even shorter than the first. Each candidate got one or two questions and about 90 seconds to answer. Then Heath gave them 30 more seconds to say whatever they wanted.
The event at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, at which the candidates did not get to question each other directly , came ahead of the first so-called official Republican debate, which is being hosted by Fox News and is scheduled to take place on Thursday evening.
That first official debate has created no small amount of controversy because under rules set up by Fox News, and backed by the Republican National Committee, only the top 10 candidates based on an average of recent national polls, will be allowed on stage at the 9pm event.
The remaining seven will face off earlier in the day at 5pm, a time when far fewer viewers will be tuning in, Reuters said. Critics say winnowing the field at this early stage undermines the importance of early state primaries in places such as Iowa, and New Hampshire.
As it was, Monday evening’s event was an opportunity for candidates to try and get their message out to as many members of the public as possible. This was particularly true for a number of the candidates trailing in the polls and who may not make the cut-off for Thursday’s event.
Former businesswoman Carly Fiorina, the only woman candidate, said the biggest challenge for any candidate was being willing to take on the “status quo”. Ben Carson, a doctor and the only black candidate, told the audience that there was no requirement that a US president be a professional politician.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whose parents moved to the US from India, said he was determined to ensure people no longer talked about “hyphenated Americans”.
Asked how he would lead the US in the international arena, Senator Lindsay Graham said his foreign policy would be “a clenched fist or an open hand – you choose”.
The debate took place as another poll on Sunday placed Mr Trump at the head of all 17 candidates to have so far declared. The NBC News/WSJ survey showed him ahead with 19 per cent, with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker trailing with 15 per cent and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush with 14 per cent.