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Donald Trump Plays Defense Over Handling Of Violence At Campaign Events

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Donald Trump dominated the headlines on the campaign trail today, as he has for most of 2016. He had good news to share. But, as NPR's Scott Detrow reports, the Republican front-runner can't escape the growing questions about violence at his campaign events.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: On Friday morning, Trump consolidated the support of yet another one-time rival - this time, Ben Carson.

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DONALD TRUMP: Having his support, really, I think it adds just total credence to what I'm trying to do and to what we're all trying to do.

DETROW: The endorsement came a day after a debate where Trump's remaining opponents largely laid off attacking him directly, and the two events both added to the growing momentum that is making Trump look more and more like the Republican Party's eventual nominee. Carson says many people asked him why he's supporting, as he put it, a man like Donald Trump.

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BEN CARSON: He is actually a very intelligent man who cares deeply about America. There are two different Donald Trumps. There's the one you see on the stage, and there's the one who's very cerebral.

DETROW: But if there are two different Donald Trumps, there are also two different Donald Trump stories happening right now. The first is the increasing acceptance if not embrace of Trump from Republican leaders.

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TRUMP: We've been contacted by many of the biggest people in Republican politics.

DETROW: There's also growing concern about violence. Earlier this week, a Trump supporter punched a protester who was being escorted out of a rally in North Carolina. CNN's Jake Tapper asked about that at Thursday's debate.

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JAKE TAPPER: Do you believe that you have done anything to create a tone where this kind of violence would be encouraged?

TRUMP: I hope not. I truly hope not.

DETROW: That clip is courtesy of CNN. Trump shifted his tone this morning.

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TRUMP: He was swinging, he was hitting people, and the audience hit back. And that's what we need a little bit more of.

DETROW: Trump may have been referencing a November rally where he said he'd like to punch a protester in the face. But in the video clips that have surfaced of this week's incident in North Carolina, there's no sign the protester who was hit was doing anything other than raising his middle fingers at the crowd. There's also an incident that happened Tuesday night at Trump's Jupiter, Fla., golf club. A reporter for Breitbart News, Michelle Fields, says Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, grabbed her. She says he nearly pulled her to the ground when she tried to ask Trump a question. A Washington Post reporter says he it what happen and wrote about it but Trump and Lewandowski deny it. Fields posted pictures of bruises on her arm, and the Jupiter Police Department says it's investigating an alleged battery that happened at the golf club that night.

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TRUMP: Go home and get a job. Go home, get a job.

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TRUMP: Get a job.

DETROW: At an afternoon rally today in St. Louis, protest after protest interrupted Trump's speech.

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TRUMP: They're allowed to get up and interrupt us horribly, and we have to be very, very gentle and very gentle. They can swing, they can hit people, but if we hit them back, it's a terrible, terrible thing, right?

DETROW: In fact, the protests and Trump's responses ended up occupying the entire event.

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TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you this - they are all writing about us, folks, and they're saying there's nothing like a Trump rally, OK? Nothing. There is - there is nothing.

DETROW: There's certainly not, but most polls show Trump with the lead - some big, some small - in every single state voting Tuesday. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.