WASHINGTON: Is this week’s Donald Trump controversy the one that will finally derail the bombastic real estate developer’s foray into presidential politics?
Opponents are hoping that unlike previous flaps, the frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination won’t be able to recover from his statement that women who have illegal abortions should be punished.
Next Tuesday’s primary in the American heartland state of Wisconsin will be an indicator of whether The Donald has finally crossed the line with his supporters, who until now have stood by their man despite controversies that would have torpedoed the political aspirations of most traditional candidates.
A poll conducted by Marquette University Law School showed Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the lead in Wisconsin, with 40 per cent support among likely voters, 10 points ahead of Trump.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, the third candidate in the Republican race, had 21 per cent in the poll, which had a margin of error of 5.8 percentage points.
The survey was conducted after a week dominated by highly personal attacks between Trump and Cruz, whose wives were dragged into the mudslinging.
In a race where Trump makes headlines seemingly every day, on Tuesday this week his campaign manager was charged with battery for allegedly grabbing a reporter at a news conference.
Rather than heed calls to fire Corey Lewandowski, Trump has unequivocally backed his top staffer and instead questioned reporter Michelle Fields’s version of events, even suggesting she threatened him by approaching him after the event.
Then on Wednesday, Trump said during an interview with MSNBC that he thought abortion should be banned and women who get the procedure under such a ban should be punished.
After an outcry from all corners of the political spectrum, the reality TV star quickly backpedaled and issued a statement saying the woman should be considered as a victim.
In the United States, abortion is a hot-button topic that defines political candidacies and not an issue where a presidential hopeful can afford a gaffe.
Not only were Democrats predictably outraged, Trump even managed to antagonize anti-abortion conservatives who say only doctors who perform the procedure should be punished.
“Once again Donald Trump has demonstrated that he hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention,” the ultraconservative Cruz said.
He’s even testing the patience of his most ardent public supporters.
“Do you realize our candidate is mental? It’s like constantly having to bail out your 16-year-old son from prison,” conservative commentator and until now steadfast supporter Ann Coulter said after Trump tweeted an unflattering photo of Cruz’s wife next to a photo of his own wife, a former model.
The long road to the Republican national convention in July is already littered with controversies over women, Islam and immigrants. It’s not known how much of a factor they played in Trump’s 12 defeats so far.
Although his popularity seems ironclad among the relatively small segment of Republican primary voters, a new survey shows Trump with a 67 per cent unfavorability rating among Americans overall — the most disliked major-party candidate in the 32-year history of the Washington Post-ABC News poll.
But in the last two months, Trump has repeatedly defied political correctness and remained atop the Republican race thanks to supporters who say they admire his business acumen and “refreshing” lack of restraint.
In one week in early February, Trump took positions unimaginable for a major Republican candidate: accusing George W. Bush of negligence before the September 11, 2001 attacks, promising to be “neutral” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, publicly clashing with Pope Francis and professing that he liked the principle underpinning President Barack Obama’s health care reform legislation.
He went on to roll to a win in South Carolina’s primary on February 20.
Three days later, Trump said he himself would like to hit a protester. That night, he finished on top in the Nevada caucus.
The following week, Trump pretended not to know the former leader of the racist Ku Klux Klan movement, who pledged his support to the billionaire, before disavowing the white supremacist leader in the face of an outcry.
He then took most of the contests on the March 1 “Super Tuesday.”
Seemingly unstoppable, the businessman plunged the tone of the presidential race to new depths when he alluded to the size of his penis in a debate watched by 17 million viewers. Wins in two southern states followed.
Violence between Trump supporters and protesters marred his campaign rallies in March, but the candidate refused to condemn it or call for calm. On March 15, he won three major states.
And with each new outburst and scandal, Trump monopolizes not only the political debate, but also the airwaves.
When he isn’t hosting rallies or issuing punchy Twitter posts, he’s in the public eye with interviews on news programs.
According to an analysis by Mediaquant published in the New York Times, Trump had racked up the equivalent of $1.9 billion in free media coverage by the end of February — more than twice that of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.