WASHINGTON (AP) — A wave of criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike rose Thursday after GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump insulted the physical appearance of Carly Fiorina, his party’s only female White House contender.
It’s a new test for the candidacy of the brash-talking Trump, whose standing in opinion polls has surged despite a series of comments that might well have doomed a traditional politician.
Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called Trump “a madman,” while Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton said the billionaire real-estate mogul “seems to delight in insulting women every chance he gets.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dismissed Trump’s latest comments as “small and inappropriate.” And Fiorina, the target of Trump’s latest insult, suggested she was “getting under his skin.”
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In some ways, Thursday was a day no different from others in an unpredictable 2016 presidential primary campaign, a messy contest in which Trump has emerged as a dominant and divisive figure. But the day also featured an escalation of criticism from Trump’s detractors in both parties, who seem be multiplying.
The spark was an interview published Wednesday by Rolling Stone, in which Trump said Fiorina’s face would make her unelectable. The magazine quoted Trump as saying of the former technology executive: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
The chorus of anti-Trump Republicans now includes Bush, Jindal, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who is running second to Trump in several early polls and challenged Trump’s Christian faith this week.
In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Jindal called Trump an “egomaniacal madman who has no principles,” describing him as a “carnival act.”
“The silly summer season is over,” Jindal said. “It’s time to get serious about saving our country. It’s time to send Donald Trump back to reality TV.”
At a rally in Columbus, Ohio, at roughly the same time, Clinton took a swipe at Trump. “There is one particular candidate who just seems to delight in insulting women every chance he gets,” Clinton told a cheering crowd of supporters. “I have to say, if he emerges I would love to debate him.”
The Fiorina remark is only the latest comment directed at women that’s led to criticism of Trump. After the first GOP debate, during which Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked him about past derogatory comments about women, Trump launched a series of insults at the TV anchor — including telling CNN that Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” during the debate.
Trump tried to paper over his remarks about Fiorina in an interview with CNN, saying he wasn’t talking about her appearance but her “persona.”
In a subsequent interview on ABC’s “The View,” he said, “I do have a very big heart,” and then he offered a message directly to women: “I want to say that I cherish women, and I will protect women, and I will take care of women, and I have great respect for women.”
He said his wife and daughter have encouraged him to speak more about “women’s health issues, because they know how strongly and committed I am to it.”
“Jeb Bush and to a large extent Hillary are not committed like I’m committed,” he said.
Bush, who has emerged as a leading Trump critic in recent weeks, came to Fiorina’s defense Thursday. He tweeted that the “demeaning remarks are small and inappropriate for anyone, much less a presidential candidate. Carly & country deserve better. Enough.”
Asked later in the day during a campaign stop in New Hampshire if he had any sympathy for those at the end of Trump’s barbs, Bush quipped, “They have to get in line.”
“I think I’m the number one beneficiary of the Donald’s insults, but look, he is who he is,” Bush said. “He likes to disparage people.”
If Trump’s comment, or the criticism that followed, has any impact on his place atop the Republican polls, it will be the first time in the 2016 race that words that might seriously damage a more traditional politician would come back to haunt him.
Trump is again expected to be front and center at next week’s GOP presidential debate. Some of his critics, including Jindal, likely won’t qualify for the prime-time affair. But Fiorina is expected to be on stage.
She declined to address Trump’s latest insult directly when asked about it during an appearance on Fox News. “But maybe, just maybe, I’m getting under his skin a little bit,” she said, “because I am climbing in the polls.”
Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report from Exeter, N.H.
Follow Steve Peoples on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/sppeoples