As squabbling Republican presidential candidates prepared Friday for nominating contests this weekend in several states, the leader of the deeply divided party organization told a gathering of conservatives that a contested convention in July likely would be averted.
"The odds of a contested convention are very small," Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee's chairman, said in addressing activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in a Maryland suburb of Washington.
Priebus assured conservative activists that the party would unite behind whoever is chosen as nominee at the July convention. "They're going to get the full backing and the 100 percent support of the Republican Party," he said, emphasizing that the party apparatus is not working for or against any single candidate. "We don't take sides, regardless of what you may think or read."
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, second from left, gestures as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich look on at a Republican presidential primary debate in Detroit, March 3, 2016.
Some Republicans have been eager to derail New York business mogul Donald Trump, front-runner in the primary race that has been reduced to four competitors. Candidate Ben Carson officially ended his White House bid Friday, telling the CPAC audience that "there are a lot of people who love me, they just won't vote for me."
Carson had already declined to participate in Thursday's debate with the remaining candidates: Trump, U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, and Governor John Kasich of Ohio. The four jousted in a debate in the Midwestern city of Detroit remarkable for its crudeness.
On Thursday, the Republicans' 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, gave a televised speech attacking Trump as unfit to lead and calling him a "con man" who is "playing the members of the American public for suckers."
At the conservative convention, mention of Romney's name brought boos, the Associated Press reported.
"There are 1,237 delegates needed to be the nominee. There are 1,744 delegates left to be distributed," Priebus said, adding there's "a long way to go."
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Marco Rubio listens as rival candidate Donald Trump speaks at the U.S. Republican presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016.
Meanwhile, the presidential candidates — including Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — were preparing Friday for this weekend's presidential nominating contests. They're scheduled in five states: Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine and Nebraska.
Trump walks back on torture
On Friday, Trump backed away from statements he made at Thursday's debate supporting torture and what he called things that are "a hell of a lot worse."
Trump said in a statement sent to The Wall Street Journal that he would "use every legal power ... to stop those terrorist enemies." But he told the newspaper, "I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties, and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws."
His moderate tone was a reversal from his tough talk during the debate, when he suggested he would break international laws against torture.
"Can you imagine ... these animals over in the Middle East that chop off heads, sitting around talking and seeing that we're having a hard problem with waterboarding?" Trump said Thursday. "We should go tougher than waterboarding."
President Barack Obama banned waterboarding — an interrogation method that simulates drowning — just after he took office in 2009.
Subsequently last June, Congress reaffirmed the ban on harsh interrogation techniques on a bipartisan 78-21 vote. Using torture would require the law's repeal.
Trump fended off intense attacks from his closest rivals during the debate, dismissing them as "lying Ted" and "little Marco." Cruz and Rubio swiped back at the New York businessman, while Kasich declined to throw punches.
The debate was filled with the yelling, personal insults and off-color remarks that have lately featured prominently in the 2016 Republican race for president.
Within five minutes of the debate's opening, Trump had bragged about the size of his genitals. Rubio "said if my hands were small, then something else is small," Trump said, holding up his hands. "I guarantee there's no problem. I guarantee you."
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The bitter Trump-Rubio rivalry continued with the ex-reality television star referring to the Florida senator as a "little guy [who] has lied so much about my record."
Rubio fired back: "You ask him a question about the economy, and the first thing he does is go into the 'little guy' thing."
Cruz, who had a stronger-than-expected performance during this week's crucial Super Tuesday nominating contests, also slammed Trump's vitriolic style. "Nominating Donald would be a disaster," he said.
The low-polling Kasich rose above the fray.
"I have never tried to go and get into these kinds of scrums that we are seeing here," Kasich said. "People say, wherever I go, 'You seem to be the adult on stage.' "
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