Republican frontrunner Donald Trump sought to contain the fallout from his comments on punishing women for having an abortion, characterising the flap as a “simple misspeak” as his White House rivals pounced on the controversy.
The billionaire businessman rowed back rapidly from his statement that women should be punished for having abortions if the procedure is banned in the US. The comments triggered a flood of rebukes from both sides of the abortion debate, and his campaign tried to address the repercussions.
“You have a presidential candidate that clarified the record not once but twice,” Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told CNN, describing the initial comments as a “simple misspeak”.
She described Trump as “pro-life with exceptions” and pointed to Trump’s two statements that followed the MSNBC interview as an accurate depiction of his views.
“We shouldn’t make this a 24-hour headline when we have things like terrorism going on in the world,” she said.
Mr Trump, leading in the race to win the Republican nomination for the November 8 presidential election, pulled back from his initial comments within an hour, first issuing a statement that US states should handle abortion issues and later saying doctors who perform abortions are the ones who should be held responsible.
Trump’s latest controversy threatened to further erode his standing with female voters, many of whom have been offended by his use of vulgarities and insulting language to describe women during the election.
The abortion flap erupted as Mr Trump campaigned in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s critical primary on Tuesday. An opinion poll showed Mr Trump’s top rival, US senator Ted Cruz of Texas, has moved ahead of him by 10 percentage points in Wisconsin.
Mr Trump visited Washington yesterday for a private meeting hosted by his top backer in the capital, senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Critics have questioned Mr Trump’s suitability to be commander in chief after a series of controversial foreign policy statements.
In recent interviews, Mr Trump has declared Nato obsolete, said Saudi Arabia is too dependent on the US, and said Japan and South Korea may need to develop their own nuclear plans because the US security umbrella is too costly to maintain.
He has refused to rule out the potential use of nuclear weapons in Europe or the Middle East to combat Islamic State militants. “I would never take any of my cards off the table,” he said.
Establishment Republicans have laboured to block Mr Trump from the Republican presidential nomination at the July convention in Cleveland, worried that he will lead the party to a broad and overwhelming defeat in November.
Mr Trump’s Republican rivals said his abortion comments were just the latest in a series of controversies that raise questions about his suitability for the White House.
“It just shows that he’s really not prepared to be president of the United States,” said Ohio governor John Kasich, adding that the president should not be constantly rowing back on a series of “wild-eyed suggestions”.
Opposition to abortion, which was legalised in a US Supreme Court ruling more than 40 years ago, is a central plank in the platform of most conservative politicians. However, conservatives have questioned whether Trump, who once supported access to abortions, is sincerely committed to his anti-abortion stance.
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