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Trump, amid scrutiny, calls Heidi Cruz attack ‘a mistake’

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton, Wis., on March 30. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

MILWAUKEE — Amid ongoing scrutiny over his views on women, real estate mogul Donald Trump conceded that he made a mistake last week when he retweeted an unflattering photograph of Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife.

“Yeah, it was a mistake,” he told Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, in a story published online Saturday. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have sent it.”

The GOP front-runner’s critics have regularly taken him to task for what they call discriminatory language that reduces women to their physical appearances. They have pointed to the incident with Heidi Cruz as the most recent example in a long history of controversial attacks against high-profile women. Perhaps the most notable incidents in the election season have come as part of his ongoing feud with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, whom he has attacked in strikingly personally terms and whose professional success he regularly undermines. Last week he called her “average in so many ways.”

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Trump has dismissed the characterization that he is anti-woman, asserting that he attacks men and women with equal force.

“Nobody respects women more than Donald Trump,” he told a crowd in Racine, Wis., Saturday afternoon.

But Trump set off alarms among women's groups earlier this week when he indicated that women seeking illegal abortions — if they were banned nationwide — would face legal repercussions for the procedure, igniting criticism from antiabortion and abortion-rights groups alike. He later walked back those remarks, ultimately saying that abortion providers and not women themselves should face punishment if the procedure were made illegal.

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Trump’s problem with women voters has caused hand-wringing within the GOP, both among his supporters and his critics, who fear that a gender gap could hurt the party’s chances of capturing the White House in November. That fear took on a new dimension on Tuesday when his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with simple battery for allegedly grabbing a female reporter. Trump has attested to Lewandowski's character and has denied any wrongdoing.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is poised to nominate former secretary of state Hillary Clinton as the first female presidential candidate of a major party.

Months of controversies have already taken a toll on Trump’s support among women. His favorability among women nationwide has fallen 10 percentage points since November, down to 23 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken last month. According to the same poll, his unfavorability among women has risen by 11 points to 75 percent. It remains to be seen how a whirlwind of controversy in recent weeks may impact his poll numbers.