BRIDGEPORT, UNITED STATES: Donald Trump and his presidential campaign pushed back Sunday against accusations by rivals in both parties that the celebrity billionaire is a political fraud who has been misleading American voters.
The Republican frontrunner's new senior advisor Paul Manafort raised eyebrows when he told Republican heavyweights at a closed-door meeting that Trump has been playing a "part" in front of rally audiences and that the role was "evolving" into a more serious, policy-focused one.
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Likening it to the "Wizard of Oz" children's tale, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz on Sunday mocked it as "basically Toto pulling the curtain on the wizard, and revealing that Donald Trump isn't on the level, has never been on the level."
"They basically have a faker running for president of the United States," she told "Fox News Sunday."
Manafort went on the same channel to try to quell the furor over his remarks, which leaked Thursday.
He insisted that Americans were seeing "the real Donald Trump in campaign mode talking to people," and that the New York real estate mogul was not out to mislead anyone.
"We were evolving the campaign, not the candidate, and the settings were going to start changing," he told Fox.
Trump himself addressed the scrutiny, explaining that how he tailors his message "depends on your audience."
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"You have to be different when you have this audience, you have to be different than if we have 12 people sitting in a conference room," Trump said Saturday in Bridgeport, Connecticut, one of five states that vote Tuesday.
Hillary Clinton, increasingly seen as the presumptive Democratic nominee, was not buying the suggestion that Trump would be able to change his image as the campaign progressed.
"Trump keeps saying things like, 'You know, uh, I didn't really mean it. It was all part of my reality TV show,'" Clinton told a crowd Saturday in Rhode Island.
"Well, if we buy that, shame on us," she said. "Because he already showed us what he believes, and he has already said what he wants to do, and he wants go after every one of the rights we have."
Trump's incendiary campaign -- he has called some Mexicans "rapists," vowed to "build a wall" on the southern US border and wants to bar Muslims from entering the country -- has infuriated the Republican establishment.
Some influential party figures like 2012 nominee Mitt Romney have aligned with a stop Trump movement, which may or may not be benefiting Trump's chief rival Ted Cruz, an arch-conservative US senator from Texas.
Cruz told reporters Trump has been "lying to us" and is pretending to be a conservative in order to "fool gullible voters."
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Barely 36 hours before voters in five state head to the polls, Trump lashed out at Cruz, accusing him of "bribing" all-important delegates as part of the convoluted primary system for choosing the Democratic and Republican nominee.
Trump has repeatedly described the process as rigged, and has mocked the party for allowing campaigns to bestow gifts such as flights and dinners on delegates.
"They had boats and yachts waiting to take delegates around," Trump said at a rowdy rally in Hagerstown, Maryland, speaking of the Republican National Committee's spring meeting this past week with delegates gathered at a Florida resort.
Cruz, he said, was busy focusing on behind-the-scenes wooing of delegates toward his side in the event there is no outright winner heading in to July's Republican convention in Cleveland.
"We want to put it away," Trump said. "I only care about the first ballot. We're not going for the second and third and fourth and fifth."
Trump is leading in Republican polls in all five states that vote Tuesday: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
"You've got to get out and vote, Maryland. We could have a big Tuesday," he implored at the rally.
Trump leads substantially in the delegate battle, with 846 delegates compared to 563 for Cruz and 147 for third-place John Kasich.
A candidate must secure 1,237 delegates to win the nomination outright.