A defiant Donald Trump has come out swinging at his Republican enemies who have sought to impugn him in any way possible to blunt his march towards the presidential nomination.
He accused his rivals and the establishment wing of the Republican Party variously of “jealousy” and “hatred” after a scorching run of days in which he has come under almost constant fire.
The first indications of whether the coordinated assaults on him are having their desired effect may appear this weekend when four more states – Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana and Maine – voice their preferences for Republican nominee on Saturday. The key Midwestern state of Michigan has its primary election on Tuesday.
Mr Trump fought back hard at a rally in Warren, Michigan, denouncing those assembling against him. “The jealousy, the hatred, it’s hard to believe,” he said, before taking more direct aim at Mitt Romney, whose father was once Governor of Michigan and who on Thursday delivered a scathing critique of the frontrunner, at the same time exposing the civil war that has erupted inside the Republican Party.
“He’s an elitist,” Mr Trump said of the 2012 Republican nominee, who lost against Barack Obama. “I hate people who think they’re hot stuff and they’re nothing.”
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
1/14 On Isis:
"Some of the candidates, they went in and didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work and sweated like dogs, and they didn’t know the room was too big because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?"
2/14 On immigration:
"I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
3/14 On Free Trade:
"Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people."
PAUL J. RICHARDS | AFP | Getty Images
4/14 On Mexicans:
"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."
5/14 On China:
"I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?... I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower."
6/14 On work:
"If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable."
7/14 On success:
"What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate."
8/14 On life:
"Everything in life is luck."
9/14 On ambition:
"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?"
10/14 On his opponents:
"Bush is totally in favour of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favour of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it."
11/14 On Obamacare:
"You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high. It's virtually useless. And remember the $5 billion web site?... I have so many web sites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a web site. It costs me $3."
12/14 On Barack Obama:
"Obama is going to be out playing golf. He might be on one of my courses. I would invite him. I have the best courses in the world. I have one right next to the White House."
13/14 On himself:
"Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money."
14/14 On America:
"The American Dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before and we will make America great again."
Not unlike the nomination race itself, the debate on Thursday night degenerated swiftly into kindergarten chaos, not least when Mr Trump took up an earlier remark by Senator Marco Rubio about the size of his hands that seemed to insinuate smallness elsewhere on his physique. He had “no problem” in the that department he informed a shocked audience, causing one of the debate’s moderators to declare: “And moving on…”
Mr Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas used the debate stage to take up where Mr Romney had left off, assailing the front-runner over the alleged fraud committed by now-defunct Trump University and past donations he had made to Democrats, including to Hillary Clinton. They pressed him over off-the-record remarks to The New York Times in which he apparently signalled flexibility on his signature proposal to deport undocumented migrants.
On the question of flexibility in general, a more composed and sober Mr Trump suggested it was a quality not a failing. “I have a very strong core,” he said. “But I’ve never seen a successful person who wasn’t flexible, who didn’t have a certain degree of flexibility.”
Mr Trump may have done little at the debate to win new converts or give his critics reason to reassess their disdain for him. When under pressure, especially to offer any substance on his policy plans, he continued to resort largely to ad hominem attacks. Thus Senator Rubio became “Little Marco” for the night.
The end for his rivals could come on 15 March when Florida, Mr Rubio’s home state, has primary elections, and also Ohio, where John Kasich is Governor. Their hope is that by then, the bombardment of Mr Trump now coming from multiple quarters will finally give his supporters pause and bring him down. So far, however, there is nothing to suggest that this is happening.
Mr Cruz, who successfully held off Mr Trump in his home state, Texas, on Super Tuesday, meanwhile threw cold water on the notion being rehearsed by party elites that if he and his rivals can prevent Mr Trump from winning a simple majority of delegates, then the party convention in July could be thrown open to allow delegates to choose an alternative there and then. And that person would not necessarily be a current candidate. Alternatives could include Mr Romney.
“A brokered convention is a pipe dream of the Washington establishment,” Mr Cruz told a press conference.