Donald Trump backtracks on abortion remarks
Republican front-runner Donald Trump's campaign is in overdrive in a damage limitation exercise to contain the fallout from his comments on punishing women for having an abortion.
His handlers tried to present the storm that has blown up over the remarks as a "simple misspeak" but his White House rivals pounced on the controversy.
The billionaire businessman rowed back rapidly and frantically on Wednesday from his statement that women should be punished for having abortions if the procedure is banned in the United States. 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 said, describing the initial comments as a "simple misspeak". She described Mr 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.
Trump 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.
This latest controversy threatened to further erode his standing with women voters, many of whom have been offended by his use of vulgarities and insulting language to describe women during the presidential race.
The abortion row erupted as Mr Trump campaigned in Wisconsin ahead of the state's critical primary on Tuesday. An opinion poll released on Wednesday showed Mr Trump's top rival, 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 programmes because the US security umbrella is too costly to maintain.
Mr Trump also 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.
Many establishment Republicans have laboured to block Mr Trump from the party's presidential nomination, worried he will lead the party to a broad and overwhelming defeat in November.