A defiant Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail Saturday after a "planned attack" shut down one of his rallies, as the Republican faced scrutiny over the racially-charged tone of his White House bid.
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton issued a stern warning to Trump after the scenes of violence in Chicago, with days to go until a crucial new round of nomination votes Tuesday, in comments that were echoed by President Barack Obama.
"If you play with matches, you're going to start a fire you can't control. That's not leadership," Clinton said, adding to mounting charges that Trump's incendiary rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims has dangerously raised tensions. "That's political arson."
Friday's violence flared after throngs of protesters — many of them blacks and Latinos angered by Trump's anti-immigrant stance — massed at the Chicago venue in a tense standoff with the candidate's own supporters, with fistfights breaking out as the meeting was called off.
Trump has placed the blame for the disturbances — which briefly triggered scenes reminiscent of the civil unrest of the 1960s with bottles hurled at officers and people trying to take over the stage — squarely on protesters he styled as "thugs."
Calling himself "energized" by the opposition, the real estate mogul forged ahead Saturday with two huge meetings in the heartland state of Ohio, which passed off peacefully despite fears of fresh troubles.
As is now the norm at Trump rallies, a dozen protesters gathered in protest outside the cavernous exhibition center hosting his Cleveland rally, holding signs that said: "Dump Trump!" and "Donald Trump: Making America Hate Again."
- 'Our communist friend' -
Half a dozen police on horseback watched from a distance the heated — but not violent — exchanges between several black protesters and mostly white Trump supporters who yelled in their faces: "Get a job! Get a job!"
There was a jittery moment at Trump's previous rally, at an airplane hangar in Dayton, Ohio, when a protester jumped on stage, forcing the Secret Service to intervene, but the event otherwise passed off smoothly.
Bill Burns, who owns a one-man heating and air conditioning company from Sheffield Lake, Ohio and came to cheer the candidate in Cleveland, was clear on who was to blame for the previous night's troubles.
"All the problems are from the protesters," said the tall, bearded 41-year-old, who wore a T-shirt reading "EBOLA," with the "O" made to resemble Barack Obama's campaign logo.
"They're the ones out there, you see them standing on the American flag. What do you expect to happen? You're just adding fuel to the fire."
Addressing supporters in Dayton, Trump said the Chicago skirmishes were a "planned attack" by organized agitators against his supporters — the "nice folks."
Later in Cleveland, he twice cast blame on "our communist friend," the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who has urged Trump to act against violence at his rallies but never encouraged his backers to disrupt them.
"Where do these people come from?" Trump asked. "They're Bernie's crowd."
- Make-or-break -
Saturday's campaign stops come three days ahead of key elections expect to further winnow the Republican field, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich both facing make-or-break tests in their home states.
Many in the party see next Tuesday's votes as the last best chance to derail the insurgent candidacy of the businessman Trump, who has so far won 15 of 24 early contests — to the despair of the Republican establishment.
Trump's three remaining rivals for the nomination —- Rubio, Kasich and Texas Senator Ted Cruz — seizing a chance to bring the frontrunner down a notch, have been unanimous in condemning the rally chaos.
"Forget about the election for a moment," Rubio told a press conference in Florida.
"There's a broader issue in our country and this is what happens when a leading presidential candidate goes around feeding into a narrative of anger and bitterness and frustration."
- Black Lives Matter -
Critics have notably accused Trump of ginning up taunts — and even violence — against demonstrators.
When protesters interrupted a rally in Iowa last month, he encouraged supporters to "knock the crap out of them," while in Las Vegas the billionaire said of a protester who disrupted his speech that he would like to "punch him in the face."
President Obama weighed in, saying White House contenders should not stoop to "insults and schoolyard taunts and manufacturing facts, not divisiveness along the lines of race and faith, certainly not violence against other Americans."
Until recently, most of Trump's campaign appearances had been in places dominated by the disaffected white voters who make up the bulk of his supporters.
That was not the case in Chicago, whose population is about 33 percent black and 29 percent Hispanic, according to the most recent census data.
The city is one of a handful roiled by protests amid allegations of deadly police violence towards African Americans, and is a stronghold of the "Black Lives Matter" protest movement.
The movement's activists appear to have been among the hundreds who rallied to counter Trump on Friday.