Trump counts cost of disastrous week ahead of Wisconsin primary
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has taken a battering in advance of Tuesday's critical Wisconsin primary election.
The contest could see the Republican electorate stall the billionaire's march toward the party's 2016 presidential nomination and boost the likelihood of a bitter convention fight this summer with Ted Cruz, the ultra-conservative first-term Texas senator.
Mr Trump, whose campaign had gained steam for months even as he did and said things that would have derailed a more conventional Republican candidate, ran into a storm of powerful opposition in Mid-western Wisconsin where a key poll shows him trailing Mr Cruz by 10 percentage points.
A previous survey had shown Mr Trump leading by that much a month ago.
Even before he arrived in the state this week, Mr Trump was skewered in interviews with a trio of Wisconsin's influential conservative talk radio hosts.
On Tuesday, just hours before his first campaign stop, two-term governor Scott Walker threw his support behind Cruz.
Much of the subsequent trouble was of the Trump campaign's own making.
Corey Lewandowski, Mr Trump's campaign manager, was charged with simple battery for an altercation with a reporter.
Then Mr Trump was forced to climb down from his assertion that women should be punished for getting abortions, a comment that managed to unite both sides of the abortion debate in fierce opposition to his statement.
At a town hall event in Wisconsin, MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked Mr Trump: "What should the law be on abortion? Should the woman be punished for having an abortion? This is not something you can dodge."
Mr Trump's bungled response - an awkward attempt to evade the question, followed by an answer that, yes, "there has to be some form of punishment" - brought an unprecedented reversal from the notoriously unapologetic candidate.
The episode demonstrated the extent to which Mr Trump has glossed over some of the rigorous policy preparation that is fundamental to most presidential campaigns, underscoring the risks of the billionaire businessman's approach as he edges closer to the Republican nomination.
State representative Jim Steineke, the Republican majority leader in the Wisconsin Assembly, said of the response to the New Yorker: "Part of it is just the Wisconsin nice. We don't take too kindly to people who act the way Donald Trump acts."
Among mainstream Republicans, Mr Trump has created fears of a permanent split in the party, with Mr Cruz taking full advantage of those worries.
The Texan said: "I think the whole country is looking to Wisconsin right now to make a choice in this race, and I think the choice Wisconsin makes is going to have repercussions for a long time to come."
Mr Trump's view is rosier for his own campaign: "If we win Wisconsin, it's pretty much over."
If Mr Cruz sweeps all the delegates in Wisconsin, Donald Trump will need to win 57% of the remaining delegates in other states in order to collect the 1,237 he needs to clinch the nomination.
So far, he has won 48% of all delegates awarded.
Wisconsin offers 42, putting it in the middle of the pack of primary prizes. But the state's stature in Republican politics and its position on the calendar - no other state votes until April 19 - have elevated its importance.
Though the state has voted for Democrats in the past several presidential elections, it boasts prominent national party leaders including Mr Walker, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Planned Parenthood and Priorities USA, two groups working to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton, have teamed up for their first anti-Trump advertisement of the election year, a 30-second spot playing on websites that feature Mr Trump's abortion comment.
Mrs Clinton said in Purchase, New York: "Donald Trump is showing us exactly who he is, and we should believe him. But let's remember this: all the Republican candidates want to make abortion illegal."
While Wisconsin may provide a much-needed boost to Mr Trump's opponents, the real estate mogul will soon find himself back in friendly territory.
The next contest awaiting Republicans comes on April 19 in New York - Mr Trump's home state and one of the biggest delegate prizes up for grabs.
Mrs Clinton, a former New York senator, holds a formidable lead among delegates, but her opponent Bernie Sanders hopes a series of recent victories in western States might turn into a springboard for a win in Wisconsin.