WASHINGTON — Donald Trump pilloried Mitt Romney on his home turf on Friday, making his best appeal to the state’s majority Mormon population and questioning whether Romney truly represented their faith.
“Do I love the Mormons? I have many friends that live in Salt Lake City — and by the way, Mitt Romney is not one of them,” Trump said to applause in that city on Friday evening. “Are you sure he’s a Mormon? Are we sure?”
Romney, the GOP 2012’s nominee, said earlier on Friday that he would back Ted Cruz, who is expected to do well in Utah’s caucuses on Tuesday. Romney has recently become a leading critic of Trump, the national GOP front-runner, and he said he would back Cruz because he had the best chance of stopping Trump.
Trump also said at his campaign rally Friday night that many Mormons had worked for his businesses, and that employees even occasionally make deposits directly to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints so they’re not tempted to pocket their paychecks.
“He’s out campaigning with (Ohio Gov. John) Kasich and then he endorses Cruz,” Trump added in another shot at Romney. “People say — are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
While Trump was speaking, protesters attempted to breach the entrance at the Infinity Event Center as Secret Service officers quickly shut the doors. The protesters were shouting “To the doors,” “Chicago” and “Shut it down” before the doors were abruptly closed.
More than 40 police officers in riot gear moved in, creating a standoff between authorities and scores of protesters at the entrance.
The incident, which took place as Trump’s event was winding down, caused security inside the venue to direct attendees to leave through a side entrance after the GOP front-runner concluded his remarks. Outside, attendees were directed down a path away from the demonstrations but many from the rally walked over to the protesters and engaged in tense conversations and shouting matches.
But the unrest didn’t affect Trump’s rallies — which was notable for a lack of protesters inside the center, unlike typical Trump events — as he mentioned the demonstrators in his speech as part of an observation he made about the “love” in the room.
“There’s even some love for the protesters,” Trump said to boos. “Honestly, they’re doing their thing.”