By Jules Witcover Tribune News Service
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The emergence of Donald Trump as the clear Republican frontrunner has generated much excitement among the party's angry conservative core, but it has also inflated Democratic hopes that a disgusted party faithful, and particularly women voters outraged at Trump's misogyny, will assure Clinton's victory in the fall. Women leaders in both parties are faced with some tough decisions in 2016.
Every day now, it seems, a new woman problem throws famed counterpuncher Donald Trump into a defensive crouch as he tries to find his way out of the corner he's been backed into.
Already coping with the arrest of his campaign manager on a female reporter's battery charge, Trump has had to retreat from a shocking contention about the criminalization of abortion.
In a town hall forum in Wisconsin Wednesday night televised by MSNBC, moderator Chris Matthews asked Trump about the legal implications of the candidate's wish to ban abortion. Specifically, Matthews pressed Trump about what would happen to a woman who gets an abortion illegally. Trump stated: "The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment. There has to be some form."
Abortion rights advocates, including potential Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, pounced. She called Trump's response "horrific and telling."
Within hours, Trump backtracked, issuing a statement that "the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case, as is the life in her womb."
As for punishing the recipient of an illegal abortion, both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Sen. John Kasich, the other remaining GOP candidates, quickly denounced the notion.
All this has come on the heels of the unbecoming catfight between Trump and Cruz concerning a supermarket tabloid's allegation of sexual dalliances by Cruz, and an unflattering photo of Cruz's wife, Heidi, paired with a sexy one of Trump's former super-model wife, Melania, which Trump retweeted.
Trump has disavowed any responsibility for either item, but he also had warned Cruz cryptically that if the war over the wives didn't end, he would "spill the beans on Heidi." Thus has the Republican presidential campaign descended to the level of a schoolyard spat, although the stakes for the party, and the country, are not so negligible.
Throughout this year's turbulent and zany presidential contest, a central speculation has been whether Hillary Clinton's second quest for the Oval Office would generate such an outpouring of sisterly support as to assure not only her nomination as the Democratic standard-bearer in November but her election as well.
The emergence of Donald Trump as the clear Republican frontrunner has generated much excitement among the party's angry conservative core, but it has also inflated Democratic hopes that a disgusted party faithful, and particularly women voters outraged at Trump's misogyny, will assure Clinton's victory in the fall.
In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll of female voters, who constitute a slight majority of the American electorate, 55 percent of participants supported Clinton to only 35 percent for Trump.
As Clinton continues to lead her Democratic challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in primary victories and convention delegates pledged, she has begun to pivot toward criticizing Trump as an easy target, especially in shoring up her strong support among women voters. On the abortion issue particularly, she has long been a defender of a woman's right to choose.
But Sanders has shown a surprising ability to draw large crowds to his rallies and to raise sufficient campaign contributions to keep going until the July party convention, she can't yet afford to focus exclusively on Trump.
His continued insensitive remarks and the behavior toward women of his campaign manager may not prove to be critical in the outcome of his candidacy and the election. But they are certainly commanding their share of headlines and television commentary in this campaign that continues to revolve around the celebrity candidate's persona and temperament.
With this phenomenon comes increasing criticism of the news media, including the more free-wheeling social media, for feeding the frenzy. But as these town hall forums proliferate, more clarification may yet come of what Donald Trump is all about, good and bad, and eventually may bring citizens to their senses in time. ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Jules Witcover's latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books.