We'll back Trump if he wins primary: rivals
Republican party elite in chaos as bid to halt mogul's march is failing
It has been an extraordinary week for Republicans as the party elite scrambled to block the juggernaut of New York billionaire businessman Donald Trump after the eleventh Republican debate in Detroit.
The chaos reflects the Republican leadership's conviction that Mr Trump cannot defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The week ended with an unprecedented attack on Trump by Republican grandee Mitt Romney. Nonetheless, rivals Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich all declared they would support Trump if he won the primary election battle. Mr Trump, in turn, said he would support whoever wins, though he seemed to find it inconceivable that it might not be him.
Last night, Mr Trump doubled down on his pledge to bring back methods "tougher than waterboarding" as president. Asked about using the military to target terrorists' families, another practice he endorses, the Republican front-runner said he would give such orders and would be obeyed, "because I'm a leader".
Even when challenged on the facts that such commands would violate US and international law the property mogul was defiant.
"They won't refuse," he said confidently. "They're not going to refuse, believe me."
Mr Trump discussed the beheading of Christians in the Middle East, and argued that when such barbarism was being displayed by terrorist groups the US should not be banning methods like waterboarding.
Mr Trump then repeated a debunked conspiracy theory about the families of the 9/11 hijackers being ushered out of the US to make his point that terrorists' families were appropriate targets.
His responses on torture went down well with those in the auditorium, as did his explanation of why even illegal orders he gave would be followed.
"I'm a leader. I've always been a leader. I've never had a problem leading people. If I say, 'do it', they're going to do it. That's what leadership is all about."
Mr Romney in a speech signalled a state of desperation inside the party establishment.
"His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader," Mr Romney declared. He called Trump "a phony" and "a con man" who is "playing the American public for suckers", a man whose "imagination must not be married to real power."
Senator John McCain, also a former Republican nominee, endorsed Mr Romney's attack.
Mr Trump lashed back in the debate, calling Mr Romney "a failed candidate" who lost to President Barack Obama four years ago because he was such a poor candidate.
Pressed on policy matters, Mr Trump signalled a willingness to deal on any number of issues.
He said it was fine that Mr Rubio had negotiated with other lawmakers on immigration policy. He said he had changed his mind to support allowing in more highly skilled workers from abroad, adding, "I'm changing. I'm changing. We need highly skilled people in this country."
The bad blood among the candidates flowed freely.
Mr Trump noted that Mr Rubio had mocked his hands as small, widely viewed as an insult about Trump's sexual prowess. Holding his hands up, Trump declared, "I guarantee you, there's no problem" in that area.
Mr Trump asked security guards to take out three protesters from the rally within 15 minutes of the start of his speech. He said he had been criticized for being "too soft" and "too harsh" on people at his rallies.
"So now I've adopted a nice: "Alright, please get them out"," said Mr Trump.
Meanwhile Mr Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, asked voters earlier on Thursday to "make the right choice", warning that Mr Trump's economic plan would sink the US in a recession and that Mr Trump could not remember details from his healthcare plan.
"Dishonesty is Trump's hallmark: He claimed that he had spoken clearly and boldly against going into Iraq. Wrong, he spoke in favour of invading Iraq. He said he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11. Wrong, he saw no such thing. He imagined it," Mr Romney said.
"Donald Trump tells us that he is very, very smart. I'm afraid that when it comes to foreign policy he is very, very not smart," Mr Romney added.
His comments were supported by Ohio Governor John Kasich and Senator John McCain.
Celebrities have joined the call to bring Mr Trump down, including comedian John Oliver on 'The Daily Show' and Miley Cyrus, who threatened to leave the US if he becomes President. Mr Trump, with 10 state victories, leads the field with 329 delegates. Cruz has 231, Rubio 110 and Kasich 25. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.