Former US Republican hopeful, Ben Carson has confirmed his support for his former rival and front-runner, Donald Trump in the presidential race.
He made the endorsement at a joint news conference in Florida with Trump, ahead of primaries on Tuesday next week.
Carson is the second former candidate to endorse Trump after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
A retired neurosurgeon, Carson was an early favourite but dropped out last week after failing to gain significant popular support.
The endorsement came a day after an elderly white man was charged with assault for allegedly punching a young protester during a rally for Trump in North Carolina on Wednesday.
Video footage taken by bystanders shows 78-year-old John McGraw, apparently hitting 26-year-old Rakeem Jones as he was being escorted away by police.
There are two sure-fire ways to draw Donald Trump’s rage. The first is to directly criticize the New Yorker. The second is to pose a threat to his success.
Ben Carson never did the former but for a few weeks last autumn he challenged Trump in Iowa polls and was rewarded with a full dose of the real estate mogul’s derision.
Bygones, however, seem to be bygones. Now the retired neurosurgeon is endorsing the man who once compared him to a child molester.
Team against conservatism
A Trump-Carson alliance should not come as much of a surprise, however. Both candidates tapped into the desire among disenchanted conservative voters to find a candidate outside the traditional political world.
Both offered sharp critiques of the Republican “establishment”.
Carson still has a loyal following, particularly among evangelical voters, and he could be a valuable asset to Trump on the campaign trail as the New Yorker looks to secure the Republican nomination in the weeks ahead.
‘No more rift’
Carson said Trump had a “cerebral” side.
“I have found in talking with him, that there’s a lot more alignment, philosophically and spiritually, than I ever thought that there was. Donald Trump talks a lot about making America great. It’s not just talk, he means it,” Carson said.
Asked about insults that the two candidates had thrown at each other in the early stages of the campaign, Carson said they had “buried the hatchet”.
“That was political stuff. That happens in American politics,” he said.
Meanwhile Trump explained why he had targeted his competitor.
“The one person who just kept sneaking up on me, I could not lose him, is Dr Ben Carson. I fought back and I hit him hard, which is politics, and he understands that,” Trump said.
Carson’s endorsement follows a debate in Miami on Thursday night between Trump and his remaining rivals Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich.
Trump, a billionaire businessman from New York with no political experience, has dominated the state primary contests so far.
More contests next Tuesday in five states, including Florida and Ohio, could extend Trump’s lead and determine whether Rubio and Kasich can continue in the race.
On Friday Rubio and his campaign admitted that Ohio Governor Kasich had a better chance of winning in the state than he did.
Rubio’s communications director, Alex Conant, says Kasich was “the best bet” to defeat Trump in Ohio, while only Rubio could do so in Florida.
The winner of the Republican nomination will face Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the Democrats, in November.