Republican front-runner Donald Trump‘s campaign labored Thursday to put the abortion “punishment” gaffe in the rearview mirror, but the remark quickly turned into an attack ad from Hillary Clinton‘s allies hammering home the message that the real estate mogul is bad for women.
In a rare admission, a Trump campaign spokeswoman said it was “complete misspeak” when Mr. Trump said a day earlier at an MSNBC town hall that women should face some form of punishment for terminating a pregnancy if abortion is ever outlawed.
“This was a complete misspeak during a conversation over a hypothetical concept, and there was a clarification issued,” Katrina Pierson, the campaign’s national spokeswoman, said on CNN’s “New Day.”
“We shouldn’t make this a 24-hour headline when we have things like terrorism going on in the world,” she said.
But a firestorm still raged over the remark, which angered pro-life and pro-choice activists alike and supplied fresh ammunition for Mr. Trump‘s critics on both sides of the aisle, including Democratic front-runner Mrs. Clinton, who say he is unprepared to be president. The attacks were so fierce that, for one day at least, the billionaire developer struggled to dictate the media narrative or dominate the news cycle.
Mr. Trump quickly backed away from the remark Wednesday by issuing a series of statements that realigned him with the widely accepted pro-life view that doctors performing abortions, and not women, should be the ones facing punishment if abortion is illegal in the future.
“My position has not changed. Like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions,” said Mr. Trump.
The abortion dustup was the latest in a series of perceived missteps on policy issues by the front-runner, including his advocacy of nuclear weapons for Japan, South Korea and even Saudi Arabia, contradicting the United States’ longstanding policy. White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes took a break from President Obama’s major nuclear security summit Thursday to tell reporters covering the gathering it would be “catastrophic” to adopt Mr. Trump‘s position.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich criticized his rival for the 2016 GOP nomination in unusually pointed terms Thursday, saying Mr. Trump‘s comments on abortion and nuclear security showed he was not ready to occupy the Oval Office.
Being president “takes restraint, it takes judgment, it takes experience — not wild-eyed suggestions and basically moving from one suggestion, and then the need to try to explain what you really meant once you realize that the suggestion you made confused people or enraged people,” Mr. Kasich said at a news conference in New York.
“It just shows that he’s really not prepared to be president of the United States,” Mr. Kasich added.
Still, Mr. Trump has previously bounced back after breaking political norms that likely would have ended the run for more conventional candidates.
The billionaire businessman and reality-TV star already had high unfavorability ratings from women voters, and his comment promised to further hurt his standing with female voters.
The remark seemed certain to provide fodder for future attack ads.