Donald Trump unrepentant over campaign rhetoric
Republican front-runner Donald Trump has vowed to continue his abrasive presidential campaign rhetoric, rejecting any responsibility for violence at his rallies and defending supporters accused of attacking protesters.
"We're not provoking. We want peace. We don't want trouble," he told a large crowd in Bloomington, Illinois, the first of three comparatively docile events from Illinois to Florida as he campaigned before another critical bout of large-state primaries.
Mr Trump's remarks came after a near-riot in Chicago on Friday night as the brash billionaire businessman cancelled a scheduled rally amid widespread altercations among his supporters, detractors and authorities.
His three-state tour comes less than 48 hours before polls open in a five-state battle that could determine whether he wins the Republican White House nomination without a contested summer convention.
Against that backdrop, Mr Trump continued to blame protesters, the media and even Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, for the increasingly caustic campaign environment that his rivals dubbed "cause for pause" and certain "to do damage to America".
Interrupted only sparingly at his events throughout the day, Mr Trump assured his backers their frustration was righteous rage against a corrupt political and economic system, casting his naysayers as "bad people" that "do harm to the country".
But by the end of the night, he seemed to miss the commotion.
Speaking at an outdoor amphitheatre in Boca Raton, on a balmy Florida night, he asked, 20 minutes into his speech: "Do we have a protester anywhere? Do we have a disrupter?"
Mr Trump has tried since Chicago to shift focus to Ohio, where he faces a late push from popular governor John Kasich. The outcome will help determine whether Mr Trump can reach the 1,237 delegates required for nomination and avoid a contested convention this summer in Cleveland.
"If we can win Ohio, we're going to run the table, folks," Mr Trump said in West Chester, Ohio, his second event of Sunday.
Mr Kasich will campaign in Ohio on Monday with 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, while 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will campaign separately for Mr Trump in Florida.
Besides Ohio, Illinois and Florida, voters in North Carolina and Missouri will cast primary ballots on Tuesday.
Mr Trump mocked Mr Kasich, calling him "a baby" and saying he was "not tough enough to be president". He went on to incorrectly identify the governor as Kase-itch, deliberately mispronouncing his rival's Czech surname.
"Like, most people don't even know how to pronounce his name. Kase-ick! Kase-ick!" Mr Trump said.
Mr Kasich, meanwhile, reversed his months-long practice of avoiding the topic of Mr Trump.
Speaking aboard his campaign bus between stops in Ohio, he brandished his iPad and read a list of Trump quotes compiled by an aide. The quotes included Mr Trump's comments that his audiences should "hit back" a little more and a statement that he would like to "punch" a protester "in the face".
"It's really cause for pause," Mr Kasich
Later he told a crowd in Hanoverton, Ohio, without mentioning Mr Trump: "Do we go to the dark side, with negativity, the gnashing of teeth, or do we go to the hopeful and the light side?"
Not to be outdone, Texas senator Ted Cruz, Mr Trump's closest competitor by delegate count, and third-place Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, piled in.
Mr Cruz was careful to criticise protesters for their methods, but said Mr Trump encouraged an essentially un-American atmosphere.
"I'm troubled by the rallies that Donald holds, where he asks all the people there to raise their hand and pledge their support to him," he said.
Mr Rubio compared Mr Trump to Third World "strongmen" and said the tone of the campaign "is really going to do damage to America".
The senator has gone so far as to say his supporters in Ohio should vote for Mr Kasich to help derail Mr Trump. Mr Kasich has not returned the favour.
Mr Cruz argued in Columbus, Ohio, that Republican voters were wasting their time with either Mr Kasich or Mr Rubio.
"It's mathematically impossible for either one of them to win 1,237" delegates, he said.
Mr Kasich has yet to win a single state while Mr Rubio has won two primaries - Minnesota and Puerto Rico.
Despite Sunday's relative calm, Mr Trump's events have unquestionably become increasingly tense over the course of his campaign and he has frequently called for aggressive tactics against protesters.
He confirmed earlier that he was considering paying the legal fees of a North Carolina man charged with assault after video captured him sucker-punching a protester at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on March 9.
Meanwhile Democrat front-runner and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she had received private messages from foreign leaders asking to endorse her candidacy in the hope of defeating Mr Trump.
She refused to name the dignitaries, but said she told them that the election must be decided by Americans. However, she said her experience as secretary of state would offer a powerful contrast with Mr Trump, should they face off in the general election.
"I believe that I will have an opportunity to really focus in on how dangerous a Donald Trump presidency would be for our standing, for our safety and for the peace of the world," she said, campaigning in Columbus, Ohio.