Donald Trump — battered by blowback yesterday after saying he’d support an abortion ban with “some form of punishment” for women — took the unusual step of walking back his controversial remark just hours later, signaling there are lines even 2016’s Teflon candidate can’t cross.
Trump’s speedy backtracking was a stark reversal for a candidate who’s rocketed to front-runner status while refusing to flinch at any criticism of his inflammatory utterances.
“He sensed that the abortion comment was one step too far,” said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “He was going to offend both the moderate and the conservatives on social issues. And if you got both of those wings in turmoil, it’s going to be tough to do well.”
It came as Trump was already playing defense ahead of Tuesday’s closely watched primary in the liberal bastion of Wisconsin. He also has primaries ahead in heavily liberal New York and California and is seen as needing swing-voting independents — and women — to maintain his winning streak.
Pressed by MSNBC host Chris Matthews yesterday on whether abortion should be banned, Trump said, “I am pro-life” and agreed. When asked whether he believes there should be punishment for illegal abortions, Trump said, “There has to be some form of punishment,” Trump said. “For the woman?” Matthews asked. “Yeah,” Trump said, nodding.
Trump’s campaign later said his position is that illegal abortion providers should be punished, calling “the woman … a victim in this case, as is the life in her womb.”
“When he made earlier statements about rounding up undocumented immigrants … that didn’t cost him any support, but none of those people were going to vote for him in the first place,” Burden said. “But in saying you would punish women in an unclear fashion … that’s a real threat against half of the electorate. Even in a Republican primary, that is just an extreme step.”
Trump caught heat from both pro-lifers and abortion rights backers. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who held a women-focused event in Madison, Wis., featuring his wife and mother, called the remarks another sign Trump “hasn’t seriously thought through the issues.” Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton tweeted that Trump’s comments were “horrific” and “telling.”
Trump, meanwhile, doubled down in support of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — whose alleged battery of a female reporter along with Trump’s abortion remarks quickly raised speculation yesterday of Trump’s vulnerability to a Democratic “War on Women” offensive. Trump suggested Lewandowski was trying to protect him from former Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields, saying, “She’s got a pen in her arm which she’s not supposed to have and it shows that she’s a very aggressive person who’s grabbing at me and touching me.”
Herald wire services contributed to this report.
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