By STEVE PEOPLES
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Donald Trump rained fresh criticism on the Republican Party’s nomination process Friday, describing the system as "rigged" and warning that millions of disenfranchised Republicans would sit out the general election if he’s denied the nomination.
The comments came as the billionaire businessman addressed voters in Connecticut’s capital city just days ahead of neighboring New York’s Tuesday primary election. Connecticut is among five states set to vote a week later.
Trump attacked his Republican rivals, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, but also took direct aim at his own party’s leadership. He charged that "party bosses" arranged a presidential nomination process that has unfairly allowed Cruz to stay within striking distance in the battle for delegates.
"The system is rigged, folks," Trump charged. "The top Republicans called up, they said, ‘Donald, please could you stop saying that?’ I said: ‘Look, I’m telling the truth. I don’t care, I’m telling the truth.’"
Trump’s sustained attacks on Republican leadership in recent days forced Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to lash out at the GOP front-runner earlier Friday.
"The truth is that these plans have been in place since October of last year. It’s was the same system that elected Abraham Lincoln," Priebus said on NBC’s "Today." He continued, "The complaining that goes on is something that I think probably distracts from what we really need to do, which is come together as Republicans."
Priebus noted that the system Trump now condemns has actually allowed him to accumulate a greater proportion of delegates than he has earned in the popular vote so far.
Through Friday afternoon, Trump leads the GOP race with 744 delegates. Ted Cruz has 545 and Kasich has 144, according to Associated Press tabulations. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the GOP nomination.
Cruz earlier in the day accused the New York real estate mogul of "whining."
"It is not surprising when a candidate loses 11 elections in a row he’s unhappy about it," Cruz told reporters as he campaigned in New York. "So he complains. And that’s fine. We’re focused on winning elections."
At the Hartford rally, Trump warned party elders that millions of voters would stay home this fall if he’s denied.
"The Republicans want to play cute with us," Trump said. "If I don’t make it, you’re going to have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not going to vote at all."
"They’re tired of the Republicans," he said.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Binghamton, N.Y., contributed to this report.
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