Donald Trump on Sunday professed his love for women and said he would be their best advocate if elected U.S. president, dismissing the firestorm of his own making that has consumed the Republican presidential campaign.
Even as he asserted that one of his main challengers is the one in trouble with female voters, the only woman in the GOP contest said she believes women are "horrified" by Trump's comments and that the billionaire businessman may be unprepared for the pressure that comes with being president.
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"I apologize when I'm wrong, but I haven't been wrong. I said nothing wrong," said Trump, who called in to four Sunday news shows, skipping only Fox News, the network with which he is feuding. "I'm leading by double digits, so maybe I shouldn't change," he boasted to NBC's Meet the Press.
Trump's unconventional, insurgent campaign has excited many anti-establishment conservatives while confounding party leaders already facing the prospects of a bruising fight among 17 candidates.
The latest controversy started Thursday night when Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly recounted Trump's history of incendiary comments toward women.
Angry over what he considered unfair treatment at the debate, Trump told CNN on Friday night that Kelly had "blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever."
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That remark cost Trump a prime-time speaking slot at the RedState Gathering, the Atlanta conference where several other presidential candidates spoke to about 1,000 conservative activists.
RedState host Erick Erickson said in a statement that Trump had violated basic standards of decency, even if his bluntness "resonates with a lot of people." The Trump campaign retorted by calling Erickson a "total loser" who backs other "establishment losers."
On Sunday, Trump stuck to his assertion that only "a deviant" would interpret his comment beyond a harmless barb.
Jeb Bush warns against insulting voters
Jeb Bush, the presidential favourite for many top Republican donors, said at RedState that Trump's bombast would hurt the GOP's chances with women, who already tilt toward Democrats in presidential elections. "Do we want to win? Do we want to insult 53 per cent of our voters?" the former Florida governor asked.
Trump contended on CBS' Face the Nation that it's Bush who has the problem with women, thanks to a comment the former Florida governor made last week when discussing cutting off federal money for Planned Parenthood.
"I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues," Bush said. He later issued a statement saying he had misspoken and was referring only to the "hard-to-fathom $500 million in federal funding" for Planned Parenthood.
"I think he's got a huge problem," Trump said of Bush. He argued Bush's comment was worse than a video recording of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney in which Romney said that 47 per cent of voters were dependent on the government and would vote for President Barack Obama, no matter what, alienating voters.
'I want to help women'
Trump also professed his love for women, pointing to the many he's hired over the years to work for him.
"I cherish women. I want to help women. I'm going to do things for women that no other candidate will be able to do," he said on CNN's `State of the Union,' promising to do more for women's health care than anyone.
Other candidates criticized Trump; some sought to avoid giving him more of their time.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the only woman running for the GOP nomination, was among the first to speak out.
Women 'horrified,' says Carly Fiorina
"I think women of all kinds are really sort of horrified by this," she told CBS, suggesting that Trump's reaction was a sign that he is too thin-skinned. "If you think a question is tough, imagine the pressure of actually being in the Oval Office," she said.
She also told CNN that as she moved up in the male-dominated business world, she too met men who implied that she was unfit for decision-making because of her cycle. "The point is women understood that comment and yes it is offensive," she said.
Trump scoffed. "She's having a lot of fun," while running away from her troubled HP tenure and losing Senate race in California, he said. "I wish her well. She's a very nice person."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, said he will let Trump answer for his own words.
"If I comment on everything he says, my whole campaign will be consumed by it," Rubio told NBC's Meet the Press.
Marco Rubio staying out of it
"He says something every day," Rubio said.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich took a similar tone, describing himself as a strong proponent of women, but avoiding criticizing Trump at length.
"I just don't want to be negative" he said on CNN.
Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, seemed exasperated by it all, at one point snapping at reporters after being asked several Trump-related questions. He told ABC's This Week it was sometimes hard for other candidates to get their message out, "because all the air in the balloon is going to Donald Trump right now."
Trump has a history of sexist and insulting comments against women, which he maintains have been taken out of context.
"Women are tremendous. ... I've had such an amazing relationship with women in business," he told ABC. "They are amazing executives. They are killers."