Donald Trump is trying to win over the Mormon community by questioning the faith of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “Do I love the Mormons? OK, I love the Mormons,” Trump said at a rally in Salt Lake City.
“I have many friends that live in Salt Lake. I have a lot of friends, I have a lot of friends. By the way, Mitt Romney is not one of them,” Trump said. “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 talked up his ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ahead of the Tuesday caucuses in Utah. “I have a couple of friends, I have actually one who’s Jewish and he loves … the Mormons, he loves the Mormons,” Trump said. I’ve had many Mormons work for me and they give to the church and they constantly give. Sometimes I make the payment directly to the church. They say they don’t want to be tempted by keeping the money.”
Earlier in the day, Romney said he would be voting for Ted Cruz, noting the senator represented the best chance to beat Trump in the state. It’s far from clear how much that endorsement matters. After all, Cruz was already seen as having an advantage in Utah “because of his emphasis on religious liberties and backing from Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee,” notes the Associated Press.
As Trump spoke, protesters and supporters of the candidate clashed outside. Police clad in riot gear lined up at the entrance of the rally as hundreds of protesters shouted: “Shut it down!” CNN reports on a few of the scuffles: “One Trump protester grabbed the hat of a supporter and threw it, and earlier, a Trump supporter shoved a protester who was speaking into a megaphone. As this was happening, dozens of police officers looked on.” No one was arrested.
Trump mentioned the protest in his speech but qualified it as unimportant. “By the way, outside looks absolutely fine,” he said. “They said we have 2,500 of you and they have some of the agitators slash protesters. Some are protesters, about 2 percent. And then some are agitators.”