Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was on defense Saturday as he kicked off a three-day sprint to Wisconsin’s primary.
Trump began the afternoon with a rally in the Milwaukee suburb of Racine, where he defended a series of controversial comments in recent days on NATO, abortion and nuclear weapons.
“This politics is a tough business,” said Trump, whose performance in Tuesday’s contest will help determine whether he can seize the Republican nomination without a fight at the convention. “Because you can say things one way and the press will criticize you horribly. You say it another way and the press will criticize you horribly.”
Offstage, Trump expressed regret that he had retweeted an unflattering photo of rival Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi, paired with a glamorous photo of his own wife, Melania, as part of a bitter feud between the two men.
“Yeah, it was a mistake,” he told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have sent it.”
Among his biggest missteps have been Trump’s recent comments on abortion, which have managed to unite both abortion rights activists and opponents in their criticism.
During a taping of “Face The Nation” on Friday, Trump said he believed that, when it comes to abortion: “The laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way.” His spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, quickly issued a clarification that Trump meant that laws won’t change until he’s president and appoints judges who can interpret them differently.
It was the second time in days that he’d stepped in hot water over the issue. On Wednesday, he’d said women should be punished for getting abortions if they’re ever banned — a position the notoriously unapologetic campaign quickly reversed.
Trump told one audience on Saturday that his words had been repeatedly taken out of context, and complained he was being held to a different standard than his rivals. He called his comments on “Face the Nation” ”perfect” and “so good.”
“They took words out that I said,” Trump told the rally, implying CBS had edited his answer about keeping abortion laws as they are. But the video made clear there was no editing in the exchange about abortion and his response was given in full.
Speaking to a friendlier crowd in Eau Claire Saturday night, Trump said that, on the plus side, he gets millions of dollars worth of free media coverage, “so I can’t complain that much.”
Trump’s abortion comments raised concerns in the Republican Party about whether his unpopularity with women as measured in preference polling would make him unelectable in a general election match-up against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In an apparent effort to address that concern, Trump said his wife will be campaigning with him Monday. His daughter Ivanka, who just had a baby, will also be returning to campaign with him in another week or so, he said.
Trump’s three events Saturday passed peacefully, though some of his supporters waiting in line to enter the Eau Claire rally exchanged harsh words with the several dozen protesters gathered outside.
Lemire reported from Wausau and Eau Claire, Wisconsin.