Don't blame me for angry mobs, I'm just messenger: Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump refused to take responsibility for clashes that have erupted at his campaign events, saying he was not inciting violence but giving voice to the anger of his supporters.
The real estate tycoon used a round of television appearances to counter furious criticism from Republican rivals and Democrats alike that he was encouraging discord with divisive language disparaging Muslims and immigrants.
"I don't accept responsibility. I do not condone violence in any shape," Mr Trump said on NBC's 'Meet the Press'.
The tension at his rallies, Mr Trump said, came from people being "sick and tired" of American leadership that has cost them jobs through international trade deals, failed to defeat Isil terrorism and treats military veterans poorly.
"The people are angry at that - they're not angry about something I'm saying. I'm just the messenger," he said.
Mr Trump, front-runner for the Republican nomination, appeared unchastened after simmering tensions between his supporters and protesters angry over his positions on immigration and Muslims erupted on Friday night, forcing him to cancel a Chicago rally and casting a shadow over his campaign appearances on Saturday.
The disturbances erupted days before the next five presidential nominating contests tomorrow, which could cement the billionaire's lead over Republican rivals US Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich.
The scenes in Chicago followed several weeks of violence at Trump rallies, in which protesters and journalists have been punched, tackled and hustled out of venues, raising concerns about security heading into the November 8 presidential election to replace US President Barack Obama. Mr Trump's Republican rivals, as well as Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, heaped criticism on the billionaire after Friday's clashes.
Mr Kasich said Mr Trump had created a "toxic environment".
Mr Trump, who had rallies scheduled in Illinois, Ohio and Florida, hopes to beat both Mr Kasich and Florida senator Mr Rubio in their home states tomorrow. A new 'Wall Street Journal'/NBC News/Marist poll showed Mr Trump leading Mr Rubio 43pc to 22pc among likely primary voters in Florida.
Mr Trump lags behind Ohio's popular governor in that state, 33pc to Mr Kasich's 39pc, the poll showed.
Mr Trump yesterday turned the criticism of his rallies against the protesters he called professional "disrupters" sent by Mr Sanders.
"Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disruptors aren't told to go to my events. Be careful, Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!" Mr Trump said on Twitter.
Mr Sanders responded by warning that Mr Trump has been an "incredibly divisive" figure whose "rhetoric is inciting violence." But Mr Trump shows no signs of toning down. He yesterday accused the protesters of arriving at his rallies with tomatoes to throw at him or of sticking their middle finger up.
Mr Trump said one 78-year-old supporter who sucker-punched a young black man being led out of a rally last week "got carried away" and said he had instructed his staff to look into paying the man's legal fees.
Republicans bank on avoiding Trump's 'electoral nightmare'
The anti-Donald Trump brigade is banking on defeating him this week in Ohio, and possibly Florida, paving the way for an 'open' convention that would deny him the Republican presidential nomination and avoid what it believes would be a general election debacle.
This is an uphill climb under any scenario, and probably impossible if Trump wins both states tomorrow. If the strategy works, however, it could create an even more perilous outcome.
But Republicans, from establishment politicians to conservative activists to big-money types, are more rattled than ever by the New York billionaire; several respected polls suggest Trump as the nominee would be an electoral nightmare, threatening to take down lots of Republicans.
Trump continues to win contests - 15 of 25 so far - and insists that he'll easily beat Hillary Clinton in the autumn. But his general election weaknesses are glaring. He's running well behind her in polls this month. More alarming to Republicans, only 27pc of voters in polls rated Trump as honest, 10 points less than Clinton on an issue that is her Achilles' heel. In another poll, Trump got a 64pc negative rating from all voters, compared with only a 25pc positive. That 39-point net negative is territory previously reached only by the likes of Richard Nixon during impeachment.