Once again, 2016 presidential race is testing Donald Trump's survival skills.
The bombastic billionaire has passed every test so far. He leads the Republican nomination race despite having offended party figures from Sen. John McCain (whose Vietnam War service he impugned) to President George W. Bush (whom he accused of lying), among many others.
His new challenge, at least on the surface, revolves around women. On the same week when Trump defended his campaign manager over a battery charge against a female reporter and defended himself over mocking the wife of rival Ted Cruz, he told MSNBC host Chris Matthews he favored legal "punishment" for women who get abortions. His statement assumed that abortion had been made illegal, which is Trump's stated desire as a "pro-life" candidate.
Facing an immediate backlash, Trump quickly issued a statement reversing himself; abortion providers, not women undergoing them, would face punishment, he said. But the controversy underscored the special vulnerability polls have shown for Trump among women, who view him more unfavorably than men do.
Cruz has attempted to capitalize, notably by holding a public event this week featuring not only his wife but also his mother. And a new Marquette University poll shows he has a chance to interrupt Trump's moment in Tuesday's Wisconsin primary. In the survey Trump, who has lost numerous caucus states but won most primary contests, trailed the Texas senator by 10 percentage points.
That's potentially significant because every defeat for Trump fuels doubts about his chances of amassing the 1,237 delegates he needs for a first ballot nomination at the Republican convention in Cleveland this summer. Fresh controversy over women voters deepens the anxiety among mainstream Republicans about Trump's effect on the party's ticket this fall — and strengthens their determination to try to block his nomination.
The challenge for stop-Trump forces is that, after Wisconsin, the primary schedule moves toward areas of greater strength for Trump — the Northeast. The New York primary is April 19. And a new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows Trump leading in his home state with 56 percent to 20 percent for Cruz and 19 percent for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
"I think this thing is a long way from being over," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. It's also a long way from being clear whether this week's contretemps represents a grave threat to Trump's candidacy or another in a series of bumps he has consistently moved beyond.