Trump says won't be 'throwing punches' in U.S. Republican debate

US Presidential Candidate Donald Trump views the course during a visit to his Scottish golf course Turnberry. RICOH Women's British Open 2015 - Trump Turnberry Resort, Scotland - 30/7/15. Action Images via Reuters / Russell Cheyne Livepic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump, the man to beat in this week's first televised Republican presidential debate, said on Sunday he does not plan to attack his rivals and downplayed expectations for his performance, saying "I'm not a debater."

The combative real estate mogul will take center stage at Thursday's debate among the 10 top-polling candidates as he leads the 17 candidates vying to represent their party in the November 2016 election.

Trump has raised eyebrows and ire with attacks on his fellow candidates, accusing former Texas Governor Rick Perry of wearing glasses to look smarter and belittling the war hero status of U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, the party's 2008 presidential candidate and a prisoner during the Vietnam War.

On Sunday, Trump said he was not planning to go on the offensive.

"I don't think I'm going to be throwing punches. I'm not looking to attack them," he said on ABC's "This Week."

Trump said he was attacked viciously by some of his rivals and that every attack he made was a "counter-punch."

"I think I'm a nice person, I really do," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Frankly I'd like to discuss the issues. I am not looking to take anybody out or be nasty to anybody."

Recent polls show Trump sustaining his lead among Republicans, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, even after an outcry from within his party over the McCain comments.

While the television personality is no stranger to the national spotlight, Trump has never been in a political debate. He lowered expectations for his own performance while attacking his rivals for being better at debating than at getting things done.

"Well, I'm not a debater," he said on ABC. "These politicians - I always say, they're all talk, no action. They debate all the time ... I don't debate. I build."

Advisers for the other candidates have said they will focus on the issues and try not to let the flamboyant Trump steal the show. Several said they would try to make a favorable impression on voters, rather than tangling with him.

Trump said he was preparing for the debate but did not specify how.

"I don't think you can artificially prepare for something like this," he said on NBC. "I want to be me. I have to be me."

(This version of the story corrects McCain candidacy to 2008 not 2012)

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati, Timothy Gardner, Megan Cassell, Doina Chiacu; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Digby Lidstone and Tom Heneghan)