- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2016

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.

Bouncing back?

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.

Wasting no time, the pro-Clinton political action committee Priorities USA teamed up with Planned Parenthood’s political arm to launch an attack ad titled “Punishment.” The ad went up with a five-figure digital media buy in swing states Florida and Ohio, as well as the nation’s capital, according to the groups.

The 30-second spot also hit Mr. Trump for past comments directed at women that it describes in block lettering across the screen as “demeaning” and “insulting,” such as him telling a woman that being on her knees was a “pretty picture.”

It then shows a clip of Mr. Trump at the town hall saying, “There has to be some form of punishment” for women who seek illegal abortions.

In the ad, the large white block print on a black screen spells out the word “dangerous.” There follows this message: “We have too much to lose to let him win. Vote for Hillary.”

It was the first paid attack ad either Priorities USA or Planned Parenthood Votes has done against Mr. Trump.

NARAL Pro-Choice America also released an ad titled “Piggishness” that replayed the town hall exchange between Mr. Trump and MSNBC host Chris Matthews.

“America, let’s stay out of the mud,” a screen at the end of the 80-second spot says. “Reject Donald Trump and his piggishness.”

Mrs. Clinton turned the “punishment” comment into a fundraising email, saying the “constitutional right to abortion” was on the line in the presidential race.

Trump said he would take away that right, and would criminalize women’s reproductive health decisions,” said the email. “We’re outraged — and we should be.”

Mr. Trump got some cover from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who said voters are more concerned with electing a president who will “kick tail and take names” than someone who knows the correct political answer to abortion questions.

“They are not talking about the little nuances of what a candidate says,” Mr. Huckabee, who ended his GOP presidential run earlier this year, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “They want to know are you going to make us better or worse, are you going to protect us, are you going to make us vulnerable like Europe. And I think that is what is getting missed in this entire election.

“This is what I hear all the time: ‘You know what, he’ll surround himself with people. They’ll fill in the blanks, but by gosh I believe he’ll kick tail and take names, and that’s what we need right now,’” he said.

Still, even Mr. Huckabee agreed it has been a rough patch for the front-runner, telling New York City’s WABC radio that “it’s not been his best week. Maybe one of his worst.”

Mr. Huckabee has not endorsed Mr. Trump, but he has frequently defended the candidate, and his daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

David Sherfinski and Bradford Richardson contributed to this report.

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