Donald Trump is fighting to convince a sceptical Republican Party he can improve his standing among women.
The presidential hopeful has taken back an explosive comment about abortion and attacked the credibility of a female reporter police said was “grabbed and shoved” by the party front-runner’s campaign manager.
It took Mr Trump’s campaign just hours to backtrack on Wednesday after he said that should abortion become illegal, women who undergo the procedure should face “some sort of punishment.”
The plan sparked an immediate backlash from both sides of the debate, prompting Mr Trump to release two statements clarifying his position. He second said only those who perform abortions would be “held legally responsible, not the woman”.
“The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb,” Mr Trump said.
This comes as Mr Trump works to hold off a challenge from chief rival Ted Cruz in Wisconsin’s high-stakes primary on Tuesday. With a win, Mr Trump’s grasp on his party’s presidential nomination could be unbreakable. A loss would give concerned Republican officials across the nation a realistic hope of wrestling the nomination away from the New York businessman at the Republican Party national convention in July.
Frustrated Republicans are privately grappling with fears about Trump’s impact on their party’s appeal among women and young people, yet few dared criticise the frontrunner directly when pressed this week. Their silence underscored the deep uncertainty plaguing the party – particularly its most prominent women – who have few options in dealing with the brash billionaire.
“A nominee who cannot speak to women cannot win,” said New Hampshire party chairwoman Jennifer Horn, though declining to rebuke Mr Trump by name.
On the Democratic side, front-runner Hillary Clinton addressed Mr Trump’s comments on Twitter: “We can’t let someone with this much contempt for women’s rights anywhere near the White House,” she wrote.
Earlier in the week, police in Jupiter, Florida, charged Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski with misdemeanour battery after examining surveillance video of an incident in which a reporter said she was grabbed and shoved.
The police report said the woman’s arm revealed “bruising from what appeared to be several finger marks indicating a grabbing-type injury”.