Donald Trump's presidential campaign pushed back Sunday against accusations by rivals in both parties that the celebrity billionaire was a political fraud who was 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.
Likening it to the "Wizard of Oz," 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 said on Fox News Sunday.
Manafort also took to the Sunday talk show circuit 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.
He told Fox News Sunday that the Republican National Committee members who met in Florida "have a different role from an organizational standpoint, and they wanted to know about things like: is he going to be giving speeches on policies, is he going to be involved in settings that are not rally-oriented?"
"We were evolving the campaign, not the candidate, and the settings were going to start changing."
Trump himself addressed the scrutiny, explaining Saturday that how he tailors his message "depends on your audience."
"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 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, one of five northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that hold primaries 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 abrasive 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 benefitting 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."
Trump is leading in Republican polls in all five states that vote Tuesday: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.