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GOP debate: Donald Trump fends off attacks on Trump University, immigrant hires

Donald Trump takes on Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz onstage while addressing Mitt Romney’s critique, too.

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Donald Trump flips back: He’s still opposed to high-skilled immigration visas

Donald Trump suggested during Thursday’s debate that he was “softening” his opposition to high-skilled immigration.

It was a flip from an earlier position.

And then, after the debate, he clarified his view - and ended up back where he started.

In a statement late Thursday, Trump said he would “end forever” the visa program for high-skilled workers.

The program is important for Silicon Valley and other high-tech industries, but the H-1B visa system has come under scrutiny as companies downsize and replace American workers with immigrants.

Here’s Trump’s post-debate statement:

“Megyn Kelly asked about highly skilled immigration. The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements,” Trump said.

“I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”

Here’s the full exchange with debate moderator Megyn Kelly:

KELLY: Mr. Trump, your campaign website to this day argues that more visas for highly skilled workers would, quote, “decimate American workers.” However, at the CNBC debate, you spoke enthusiastically in favor of these visas. So, which is it?

TRUMP: I’m changing. I’m changing. We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them in. But, and we do need in Silicon Valley, we absolutely have to have.

So, we do need highly skilled, and one of the biggest problems we have is people go to the best colleges. They’ll go to Harvard, they’ll go to Stanford, they’ll go to Wharton, as soon as they’re finished they’ll get shoved out. They want to stay in this country. They want to stay here desperately, they’re not able to stay here. For that purpose, we absolutely have to be able to keep the brain power in this country.

KELLY: So you abandoning the position on your website ...

TRUMP: ... I’m changing it, and I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.

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Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich make a post-debate case for staying in the GOP race

The candidates trying to topple Donald Trump admit it’s a tall order, but Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich aren’t ready to call it quits.

Cruz said during Thursday’s debate that while Donald Trump is dominating the Republican field, the billionaire has a ceiling of support that he’s about to hit.

“It’s a little bit celebrity, it’s a little bit pizzazz, but I think he has also has a ceiling of 35-40%,” the senator from Texas said in a post-debate interview on Fox News. “So the more the field narrows, the more vulnerable he is.”

Rubio said Trump is “funny -- he’s got these one-liners -- but we’re talking the presidency of the United States here.”

The senator from Florida defended trash-talking to try to bring him down.

“I don’t want to do anything for example that Jesus wouldn’t be proud of,” said Rubio, who is marshaling resources to win his home state’s primary on March 15. “But if anyone deserves to be hit that way, you know Donald has insulted everyone you can imagine. There comes a time you have to stand up.”

But Kasich said insults won’t work on Trump. “The only way you beat Donald Trump is to show you have a vision bigger than his,” he said.

“We’re not done yet,” added the Ohio governor, vowing to press on to win his own state’s primary, also on March 15.

And if the campaign moves to a contested convention in July, he said: “They’re going to pick an adult.”

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Donald Trump says he’s staying with the GOP because it’s the best route to the White House

Donald Trump said he’s sticking with the GOP even if the party tries to stop him at its convention this summer because he sees the party as the best platform to win the presidential election.

“The best chance of winning is for me to run as a Republican,” Trump said during a post-debate interview on Fox News.

“To win is to run as a Republican.”

The candidates gave a surprising answer at the end of the GOP debate when Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich all said they would support Trump if he were the party’s nominee.

Trump likewise said he would support the nominee if it isn’t him.

The Republican National Committee has asked all of the presidential contenders to pledge to support the eventual nominee -- and not to mount an alternative campaign.

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Every other GOP candidate says he would support Donald Trump as the party’s nominee

On a day when 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney blistered current front-runner Donald Trump as dangerous and unelectable, each of his GOP rivals said they would back him if he is the party’s choice for president.

“I will support Donald if he is the Republican nominee,” said Sen. Marco Rubio during Thursday’s debate in Detroit.

He said Trump, the GOP front-runner, was preferable to either Democratic candidate: Bernie Sanders because he is socialist and Hillary Clinton because of her email scandal.

Ted Cruz said he would also support Trump, but cast it as a matter of principle.

“I have my word that I would” support the nominee, Cruz said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has yet to win a single nominating contest and is hanging his hopes on his home state’s primary later this month, said that he too would support Trump, but that he expected to be the Republican nominee himself.

Trump was asked the same question about his rivals.

“Even if it’s not me?” he asked incredulously, before saying that he would support one of his GOP rivals if he fails to secure the nomination.

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After a day of intraparty rancor, Republicans agree to support the eventual nominee (even Trump)

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This night has not gone as hoped for Chris Wallace

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Seriously, can we talk yoga at the GOP debate?

They’ll be here all night, folks.

A testy exchange over Supreme Court nominees between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump devolved into a one-liner stand-up routine.

“Donald, please, I know it’s hard,” Cruz interjected. “Breathe, breathe, breathe. you can do it. Breathe.”

As Trump argued on, Rubio jumped in.

“When they’re done with the yoga, can I answer the question?”

“Well, they’re very flexible,” he quipped.

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Marco Rubio accuses Donald Trump of conning Trump University students

Donald Trump’s explanation of a few of his flip-flops devolved into a heated argument with Marco Rubio over his defunct Trump University at Thursday’s Republican presidential debate.

“I’ve never seen a successful person who wasn’t flexible,” Trump told moderator Megyn Kelly after Fox News showed clips of him taking contradictory stands on Middle East policy.

Rubio pounced. “There’s a difference between flexibility and telling people whatever you think you need to say to get them to do what you want them to do,” the Florida senator said. “And that’s what Donald has done throughout his career. That’s why Trump University is so relevant here.”

Rubio and Kelly were soon taking turns challenging Trump on former students’ allegations against him in a class-action fraud lawsuit.

“This is a case I could have settled very easily,” Trump said. Many of the students were satisfied with their real estate classes, he said, and the Better Business Bureau gave his school an A rating.

“The rating from the Better Business Bureau was a D minus,” Kelly said.

“It was elevated to an A,” Trump interjected.

Kelly then quoted an appeals court judge in the case saying, “Victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until they realize they have been fleeced.” Fox News ran a graphic of the quote.

“Give me a break,” Trump replied.

Rubio told the audience he’d spoken with one of the victimized students on Wednesday and accused Trump of refusing to refund the student’s money.

“I gave many people their money back,” Trump said as the two began raising their voices and talking over each other.

“He’s trying to con people into giving him their vote just like he conned these people into giving him their money,” Rubio said.

“The real con artist is Sen. Marco Rubio,” Trump retorted, citing Rubio’s frequent absences from the Senate. “The people of Florida can’t stand him. He couldn’t get elected dogcatcher.”

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Ted Cruz says adoption by same-sex couples ought to be decided by the states

Adoption by same-sex couples is not a federal issue, Ted Cruz insisted during Thursday’s debate.

“Adoption is decided at the state level,” he said in response to a question Thursday about his position on adoption by same-sex couples. “I am a believer of the 10th amendment.”

Cruz also said that defining marriage ought to be done on the state level and blasted the Supreme Court for ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. He pledged to defend the rights of those whose conscience does not allow for such adoptions or marriages.

“I will never compromise away your religious liberty,” he said.

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Ted Cruz uses Detroit’s woes to attack liberalism

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Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio attack Donald Trump for hiring foreign waiters at his Palm Beach club

(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio pounded Donald Trump in Thursday’s Republican presidential debate for hiring foreign workers to wait tables at his posh private club in Palm Beach, Fla.

Cruz said it showed Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration was “all just rhetoric for the voters.”

Rubio, in turn, said Trump was bypassing Americans and hiring foreign laborers for the short term so that he could hold them “captive.” The foreigners can’t seek higher-wage work elsewhere without running into visa trouble, he said.

The senator from Florida also assailed Trump for not having his brand’s ties and other clothing manufactured in the United States. “You’re making your clothes overseas and you’re hiring your workers overseas,” he said.

Trump said he’d employed tens of thousands of people over the years, 98% of them Americans. Very few local residents want the November-to-March jobs waiting tables at his Mar-a-Lago club, he said.

“It has a very short season,” Trump said. “It’s called the season.”

Whenever possible, he said, “we hire people from Palm Beach or West Palm Beach.”

The exchange ended with Cruz again urging Trump to ask the New York Times to release an audio recording of an off-the-record interview in which he reportedly expressed willingness to negotiate on illegal immigration. He questioned whether Trump had been truthful with voters, leading Trump to repeat his answer that he would not request a release of the recording -- and insult the senator from Texas in the process.

“I’ve given my answer, lyin’ Ted,” Trump said.

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Donald Trump: The military would follow my orders

Donald Trump rebuffed a former CIA director’s opinion that the American military would refuse to follow his orders on how to deal with terrorists because they violate international standards for war.

“They’re not going to refuse me, believe me,” Trump said, before highlighting the atrocities being committed by the Islamic State extremist group, including beheading and drowning people. “And 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.”

Trump was responding to comments by former CIA Director Michael Hayden in February that the armed forces would not obey some of Trump’s directives, including to kill the family members of terrorists.

Trump reiterated his support for waterboarding and his stance that he would go further.

“If we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger too,” he said.

Trump also reiterated his support for targeting the families of terrorists, repeating a debunked claim that the Sept. 11 attackers sent their wives home before flying planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“The wives knew what was happening,” he said. “They watched their husbands on TV.”

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Donald Trump flips on immigration -- now supports bringing in high-skilled workers

Donald Trump made his first about-face on a stated policy issue Thursday -- saying he now supports Silicon Valley firms and others who want to bring in high-skilled immigrant workers.

“We absolutely have to have them,” Trump said.

I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country,” he said.

Trump has tried to take the hardest line among the candidates in blocking immigrants, and the shift quickly exposed him to attacks from Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

“You’ve got U.S. companies that are firing American workers bringing in foreign workers and forcing them to train their replacements,” said Cruz, who has proposed a moratorium on the H-1B visa program.

Cruz said the issue is similar to Trump’s hiring of lower-skilled foreign workers for the wait staff and other jobs at his Florida resort.

Trump said other hotels “do the exact same thing.”

And Rubio argued: “You argue that you’re here to fight on behalf of the American worker, but when you have chances to help the American worker, you’re making your clothes overseas and you’re hiring your workers from overseas.”

Of course, Rubio fought to increase the number of high-skilled worker visas during his work on the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill in the Senate.

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Early on in the debate, by the numbers

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Donald Trump displays a sudden respect for the media

(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Donald Trump, pressed to allow the New York Times to release an off-the-record recording where he discusses his immigration views, flatly refused during Thursday’s debate because of his respect for the relationship between journalists and their sources.

“I have too much respect for that process to say just release everything,” he said during the debate in Detroit. “I would not do that.”

Trump’s purported admiration for the precepts of journalism is a departure from when he opined about the Fourth Estate just last week, when he said that suing the media should be easier to do.

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win ... I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” Trump said during a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, according to CNN.

“We’re going to open up those libel laws so when the New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post ... writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected,” he said at the time. “We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

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Marco Rubio challenges Donald Trump to make his namesake clothing line in the U.S.

If Donald Trump is going to “make America great again,” Marco Rubio suggested he could start with this: Make his Trump clothing line in the United States.

Trump “has spent a career convincing America he is something he’s not,” Rubio lobbed early in the Detroit debate, saying the billionaire got his start with a big inheritance.

“He could start tonight by announcing the Donald J. Trump collection will no longer be made in China but will be made here at home,” Rubio suggested.

Trump fired back like he often does: with an insult.

“This little guy has lied so much,” Trump said.

“Here we go,” Rubio interrupted. “He can’t help himself.”

When moderator Chris Wallace pressed Trump on the idea of moving his clothing manufacturing to the U.S., Trump said he would.

“I will do that,” Trump said, before complaining that foreign competitors manipulate their currency. “They make it impossible for clothing makers in this country to make clothing in this country.”

Rubio shot back that Trump manufactures the clothes overseas because it’s cheaper.

“He launches into this ‘little guy’ thing. He doesn’t have answers,” Rubio said.

“You haven’t employed one person,” Trump fired back.

“He’s not going to make America great,” Rubio said.

“Don’t worry about it, little Marco.”

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Donald Trump’s first exchange with Megyn Kelly: No mention of blood

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Donald Trump’s opening gambit: Fighting back against insults

The Fox Theater in downtown Detroit, site of Thursday's Republican debate. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Personal insults erupted moments into a Republican presidential debate Thursday night in Detroit as Donald Trump’s rivals fought with new urgency to stop his march to the nomination before it’s too late.

Marco Rubio defended his hammering of Trump over the last week, saying, “If there’s anyone who ever deserved to be attacked that way, it’s Donald Trump.”

Trump, in turn, called Rubio a “little guy” who has lied about his record, and he defended himself against the Florida senator’s double-entendre about the New York billionaire having small hands.

“Are they small hands?” Trump said, holding them up for the audience to see. As for any other part of his anatomy, Trump said, “I guarantee you there’s no problem.”

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Trump: I do not have small hands

Yup, they went there.

Thursday’s GOP debate picked up almost immediately where the campaign rhetoric had been in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, with vulgar insults playing a prominent role - and, in this case, Donald Trump’s added graphic anatomical quip.

The exchange began when Trump was asked about Marco Rubio in recent days poking fun at the size of Trump’s hands, and Trump protesting that they were normal-sized.

“Look at these hands,” he said, holding them up. “Are those small hands?”

He quickly went elsewhere.

Trump said Rubio was implying that his hand size pointed to shortcomings in other parts of his physique - and Trump said that was untrue.

“I guarantee you, there’s no problem,” Trump said, in an oblique reference to his genitals.

Trump also said that this is the first time anyone has raised the size of his hands, which is not true. In 1988, Spy magazine described Donald Trump as “a short-fingered vulgarian.”

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Right away in debate, Donald Trump is asked to respond to Mitt Romney

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Mitt Romney got Donald Trump’s backing in 2012. Now, he says, he’d decline.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, said he would not have accepted Donald Trump’s endorsement then if the current Republican front-runner had made the controversial statements he is making now.

“If Trump had said 4 years ago the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would NOT have accepted his endorsement,” Romney tweeted.

He made the comment hours after delivering a blistering denouncement of Trump, who responded to the speech by mocking Romney’s attempt to win his endorsement in 2012.

“I could have said ‘Mitt, drop to your knees,’” Trump said during a rally in Maine. “And he would have.”

Trump’s endorsement of Romney in 2012 was awkward, with the patrician former Massachusetts governor and his wife, Ann, appearing briefly alongside Trump at his gilt-edged off-the-Strip resort in Las Vegas.

While Trump at the time had not made the controversial statements about Mexicans, the Ku Klux Klan and the disabled that have helped define the 2016 race, Romney accepted his endorsement when Trump was best known in political circles for questioning whether President Obama was born in the United States. That was an inquiry that many of the president’s supporters believe was firmly rooted in racism.

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‘Bernie Baby’ dies unexpectedly

Bernie Baby, the cheerful boy who won the affections of people of all political stripes after his mom posted photos on social media of him greeting Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in a look-alike white-haired wig, oversized glasses and plaid tie, has died of sudden infant death syndrome.

Oliver Jack Carter Lomas-Davis of Los Angeles died Feb. 25, his aunt, Anastasia Lomas, told the Associated Press. He was 4 months old.

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Mitt Romney’s 2012 shadow speaks

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In labor-heavy Michigan, Bernie Sanders talks trade against Clinton, softens Obama criticism

With a victory in Tuesday’s Michigan presidential primary critical to his campaign, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has seized on an issue on which he and Hillary Clinton have sharp disagreements — trade, which he blames for ravaging the state’s once-bountiful manufacturing jobs.

There’s one big complication: Sanders’ trade position not only differs from Clinton’s but from the two most recent Democratic presidents, who remain hugely popular among the party’s voters. That has forced Sanders into a narrow path of lauding Bill Clinton and President Obama while at the same time picking at the trade deals both consider central to their legacies.

Persistent loyalty to the two former Democratic presidents represents a continued dilemma for Sanders and an advantage for Hillary Clinton. Her husband pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement, against which Sanders campaigned on Thursday. President Obama, in whose administration she served, has pushed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which Sanders vehemently opposes and to which Clinton has offered more mild opposition.

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In today’s campaign weirdness ...

It looked for a time like we had a Twitter fight between the son of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and the vice presidential running mate of the party’s 2008 standard-bearer.

It turns out Tagg Romney, whose father delivered a stinging anti-Trump speech earlier Thursday, was responding to a Sarah Palin parody account.

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Schwarzenegger to rally with Kasich in Ohio

(Los Angeles Times)

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will attend a presidential campaign rally for Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Sunday, leading to inevitable questions about if he plans to endorse his longtime friend in the run-up to the Ohio primary.

Schwarzenegger could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon because he was busy filming “The Celebrity Apprentice.” He took over as the host of the show after NBC cut ties with previous host Donald Trump in June following the GOP presidential front-runner’s disparaging comments about Mexicans.

Schwarzenegger and Kasich bonded because of Schwarzenegger’s annual body-building competition, the Arnold Classic, which takes place this weekend in Columbus.

Kasich “is the only politician that had the guts to go in the middle of hundreds of body-builders that were oiled up and standing there in their underwear,” Schwarzenegger told voters who called into a tele-town hall for Kasich in February.

Schwarzenegger has contributed to Kasich’s campaign and appeared at a Los Angeles-area fundraiser for him in October. But he has avoided weighing in on the presidential contest because he is close to several people in the race.

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Sen. John McCain tells voters to think ‘long and hard’ before going for Donald Trump

Sen. John McCain has added his voice to the growing list of Republican leaders trying to halt the rise of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee who now heads the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, in casting doubts on Trump’s national security credentials.

“I share the concerns about Donald Trump that my friend and former Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, described in his speech today,” McCain said in a statement Thursday.

“I would also echo the many concerns about Mr. Trump’s uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues that have been raised by 65 Republican defense and foreign policy leaders,” he said.

“At a time when our world has never been more complex or more in danger, as we watch the threatening actions of a neo-imperial Russia, an assertive China, an expansionist Iran, an insane North Korean ruler, and terrorist movements that are metastasizing across the Middle East and Africa, I want Republican voters to pay close attention to what our party’s most respected and knowledgeable leaders and national security experts are saying about Mr. Trump, and to think long and hard about who they want to be our next Commander-in-Chief and leader of the free world.”

With Trump leading in both polls and delegates, it is unclear if voters will pay attention to warnings from establishment figures such as McCain, who, like many GOP leaders, has tried to avoid taking sides in the primary race.

But McCain remains popular with Americans, especially among those who value his military record as a Navy pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam War and tortured as a POW. He faces a reelection campaign this fall in Arizona.

Shortly after he announced his candidacy last summer, Trump surprised many in the party when he publicly belittled McCain’s status as a war hero. Ultimately, it did not damage his campaign.

Here’s more on GOP leaders struggling to decide whether to distance themselves from Trump -- or join him.

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Chris Christie: Donald Trump is the voters’ choice, and mine too

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, under fire at home and nationally, vigorously defended his endorsement of Donald Trump on Thursday, saying Trump is the best candidate still standing and Republicans’ chief hope for defeating Hillary Clinton.

Christie said he did not agree with statements from many Republican leaders, including Mitt Romney, that Trump is a demagogue who threatens to fracture the party.

“If people don’t believe in democracy, they should come out and say that,” Christie said. “But the fact is, we’ve had 15 contests and Donald Trump has won 10 of them. The people of the Republican party who vote in primaries have the right to pick the nominee.

“… In the end, I don’t think Republicans do well by telling the voters they’re wrong,” he said, adding that he thinks it’s “very dangerous” for party brokers to talk about trying to deny Trump the nomination at the party convention in July.

“You want to see the party break up, that’s when you’ll see the party have a big problem,” he said.

Christie, now in his second term as New Jersey’s governor, once was seen as a strong contender for the White House, but his presidential hopes took a nosedive after his surrogates deliberately snarled traffic near the George Washington Bridge leading to New York City as an apparent act of political retaliation. He dropped out after finishing sixth in the New Hampshire primary last month.

Christie shocked party leaders and allies by endorsing the business mogul last week, and was widely mocked after he appeared with Trump after Tuesday’s primary, standing stone-faced while Trump fielded questions from reporters. After avoiding questions at earlier appearances, Christie confronted them in his trademark aggressive, bantering style.

“All these armchair psychiatrists, give me a break.,” Christie said. “No, I wasn’t being held hostage. No, I wasn’t sitting up there thinking, “Oh, my God, what have I done.’”

Christie pointed out that he and Trump were at a news conference, not a rally, and “I don’t think that’s the appropriate time for smiling, cheering and clapping.”

He pushed back against Romney, who slammed Trump in a long speech earlier Tuesday. “I’ve known Donald Trump for 14 years, and Donald Trump is not a bigot,” he said. “I disagree with Gov. Romney on that one.” He declined to scrap with Romney, saying they are friends with a political disagreement.

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‘Beautiful’ or basic? Donald Trump’s healthcare plan includes little that’s new

(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

Donald Trump has at various times promised a healthcare plan that would be “beautiful,” “terrific” and “unbelievable.”

But the healthcare outline his campaign released Wednesday mostly highlights standard, if vague, Republican proposals, several of which conservatives themselves say will have little impact on patients’ health or their pocketbooks.

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Chris Christie does not share the prevailing view of how he looked standing behind Donald Trump

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Mitt Romney warns of Donald Trump enabling a Hillary Clinton presidency

Mitt Romney, the GOP standard-bearer in 2012, has ratcheted up the fight against the man who may carry the party’s torch in 2016, Donald Trump -- using words such as “phony” and “fraud” in a speech Thursday morning that asserts Trump’s nomination would put Hillary Clinton in the White House.

It was a standoff that seemed preordained as Trump’s grip on the nomination has tightened and Republican leaders have begun to panic: Romney, perhaps the ultimate Republican establishment figure, lashing out against Trump, the party’s ultimate antagonist.

“Here’s what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney said at a speech at the University of Utah.

“A person so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton must not become president. But a Trump nomination enables her victory,” Romney said.

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Mitt Romney: Trump would lead the U.S. economy into a recession

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There was a time when Mitt Romney had more use for Donald Trump than he does now

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Elton John and Katy Perry headline a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton

A star-studded concert featuring Elton John, Katy Perry and others doubled as a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in New York City.

Clinton and her family attended together, as did Julianne Moore and Jamie Foxx.

“You will never find someone who possesses such resilience, such determination and such strength,” John said after his performance.

Tickets to the event ranged from $125 to $2,700. At least 11 sponsors donated more than $100,000 to the campaign.

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Donald Trump fires back at Mitt Romney ahead of his big speech

Before Mitt Romney’s anticipated attack on Donald Trump in an address Thursday from Salt Lake City, the GOP front-runner launched a rebuttal to the expected criticism and called Romney a failure for the Republican Party.

“His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University,” Romney plans to argue, according to excerpts of his speech in which he calls Trump a “phony” and a “fraud.” “He’s playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”

If Trump wins the nomination, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton will win the election, Romney will assert.

“He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president,” his speech reads. “And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”

Trump fired back Thursday morning before the speech and accused the former nominee of “begging” for his endorsement during the presidential race in 2012. He added that he raised money for Romney, who then failed to overcome the Democratic incumbent.

“It was almost like he was lost,” Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “He ran one of the worst campaigns, as you know, in presidential history.”

Trump also claimed responsibility for an increase in voter turnout for Republicans and for what he called an “enthusiasm” for the party, but not the establishment.

“I brought millions and millions people into the Republican Party over the last very short period of time,” Trump said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “It’s the biggest story in politics, how many people are flocking into the Republican Party.”

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Here’s how Mitt Romney will go after Donald Trump

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Donald Trump-Megyn Kelly rematch and other things to watch for in the GOP debate

As Republican presidential candidates gather in Detroit for their 11th debate Thursday, they’ll be hard-pressed to top their riveting performance in last week’s debate in Houston.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have a strong incentive to resume their tag-team assault on front-runner Donald Trump after he won seven more states Tuesday.

Also in the mix: It will be Trump’s first face-to-face encounter with his cable news nemesis Megyn Kelly since the Fox News anchor confronted him at the first GOP debate in August over his history of making demeaning remarks about women.

Here are three things to watch for.

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Republican donors’ anti-Trump efforts ramp up, with an eye toward Florida

As voters in a large swath of the nation were delivering victories to Donald Trump in seven states this week, some of the wealthiest GOP donors gathered on a conference call with one goal: to stop the businessman from becoming the standard-bearer for the Republican Party.

That effort, to unite behind an anti-Trump super PAC, is the latest in a growing movement among establishment Republicans to rally around an alternative to the GOP presidential front-runner.

“Donald Trump is unfit to be president. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey,” Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Chief Executive Meg Whitman said over the weekend. Whitman, who ran unsuccessfully for California governor six years ago, was among the Republican donors on the Tuesday call, first reported by the New York Times.

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Republican leaders are torn: Accept or reject Donald Trump for president?

As Donald Trump continues his strut toward the Republican presidential nomination, pressure is mounting on GOP leaders across almost all levels of government to take a stand in one of the most historic political fights of their generation.

Governors, members of Congress and those aspiring to elected office are facing the uncomfortable question of whether to support the coarse billionaire, who has driven the debate into a smash-mouth campaign on delicate issues including race, or distance themselves from a celebrity many worry is hijacking their party.

It is fast becoming the defining question of the 2016 election: When it comes to Trump, which side are you on?

“It could very well be a turning point, for the entire political system as much as for the Republican Party,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a Princeton University history professor who has written extensively about American politics.

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