Trump questions Romney's Mormon faith at Utah rally
As Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump swept through Utah for a Friday night rally, he questioned the faith of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, as protesters demonstrated outside the doors to the venue.
"I have many friends that live in Salt Lake, I have a lot of friends," Trump told his audience. "No, I have a lot of friends. By the way, Mitt Romney is not one of them. Did he choke? Did this guy choke? He's a choke artist, I can't believe. Are you sure he's a Mormon, are we sure?"
Trump made numerous references to Mormons in his speech in Utah, a state with a much higher population of people in the Mormon faith. "Do I love the Mormons, okay?" he said. "Do I love the Mormons?"
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Trump himself was defensive last month when Pope Francis questioned his Christian faith over the candidate's calls for a wall to be built at the southern U.S. border to keep immigrants out.
"No leader, especially a religious leader, has the right to question another man's religion or faith," he said at the time.
Romney has been calling for conservatives to reject Donald Trump, calling the real estate mogul a "phony" and a "fraud" in a major speech earlier this month and continuously challenging Trump's conservative credentials.
Romney lives and votes in Utah now, and while he campaigned with John Kasich in Ohio, he posted a Facebook note earlier Friday indicating that he will support Ted Cruz in next week's caucus here, although he still cautions it's not an official endorsement.
Trump mocked Romney's support of both Cruz and Kasich Friday night, claiming the former Massachusetts governor "let us down" when he "choked like a dog" by losing to President Obama in the 2012 election.
"He's just like, it's just crazy. He's out, he's out campaigning with Kasich, and then he endorses Cruz. Nobody, you know, people are saying, 'Are you sure you know what you're doing?' It turned out to be a good thing — my numbers went way up. I don't know what's going on."
As Trump regaled the charged crowd inside with commentary on the presidential race, protesters crowded the doors to his event before it ended, shouting, "Shut it down!"
There were clashes between protesters and police when officers told them to back up, and some did not obey. Officers pushed some protesters who fought back.
Police lined up in riot gear at the doors to the venue while protesters held signs like, "Let's build a wall around Trump - And make him pay for it!" and "No Racism, No Fascism."
At one point, Black Lives Matter activists started chanting, "Black Lives Matter!" while a few Trump supporters held their candidate's sign and chanted, "Everybody's life matters!"
While the tension was high outside, the mood inside was rowdy but still peaceful. This was one of his relatively smaller events, held inside a local concert venue that holds around 1,000 people, as opposed to some of his more dynamic rallies in packed stadiums.
The room was full, and a line formed outside the doors of people who could not get in.