WASHINGTON - The U.S. Republican presidential front-runner, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, faced new scrutiny Thursday after his call for "some form of punishment" for women who secure abortions if the procedure is ever prohibited in the country, even though within hours he backtracked on that comment.
In an intense interview on CNN about Trump's remark, his spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, said, "This was a complete misspeak." Pierson said Trump, who once supported a woman's right to the medical procedure, now is "pro-life with exceptions" and would favor punishing doctors who perform abortions, not women, if the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturns its 43-year-old ruling supporting abortion rights in the U.S.
Both of Trump's two remaining challengers for the Republican presidential nomination, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, also oppose abortion rights. But Kasich said Trump's original abortion statement, and "casual comments" he has made about the possible U.S. use of nuclear weapons, "just show he's really not prepared to be president of the United States."
Cruz accused Trump of saying "anything just to get attention."
Trump also rankled the GOP establishment this week by reversing his pledge to support the party's nominee.
But the party elite met with the controversial frontrunner in Washington Thursday. His surprise visit to the Republican National Committee came after months of tension between Trump and the party he seeks to represent in the November 8 election.
Trump tweeted that he had a "very nice" meeting with RNC head Reince Priebus during his nearly hour-long visit. But he offered no other details.
Trump still leading but faces push-back
Trump has surged to the top of the once-large Republican presidential field. But he has yet to secure a majority of delegates to July's Republican national convention, where the party's 2016 nominee will be picked to run in the November national election against the Democratic contender, most likely former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Trump, a one-time television reality show host, has a significant lead in the convention delegate count over Cruz and even more over Kasich, but Trump faces a tough new party primary Tuesday in the northern state of Wisconsin. One political survey there, by the Marquette University Law School, showed Cruz ahead of Trump by a 40-to-30-percent margin, with Kasich at 21 percent.
Numerous other states hold party nominating contests through early June.
Even before his abortion comment in a television interview Wednesday, political surveys showed that women, who comprise more than half of the U.S. electorate, increasingly hold an unfavorable view of Trump, who over the years has made numerous disparaging comments about women.
National polls have shown Trump with negative ratings among women that hover around 70 percent. The Wisconsin survey showed 76 percent of women in the state had an unfavorable view of Trump, compared to 55 percent for Cruz.
Trump's abortion remarks came a day after he defended his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who has been charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly grabbing a female reporter covering a Trump rally in Florida earlier in March and bruising her arm. Trump said police made a mistake in filing the charge against Lewandowski and questioned the reporter's version of the incident.