KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Donald Trump entered the abortion debate today and quickly got caught up in a firestorm. During an interview with MSNBC, Trump was asked about his support for banning abortion and whether women who had abortions should be punished if the procedure was made illegal.
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CHRIS MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion - yes or no - as a principle?
DONALD TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.
MATTHEWS: For the woman?
TRUMP: Yeah, there has to be some form.
MATTHEWS: Ten cents, 10 years, what?
TRUMP: That I don't know.
MCEVERS: Not long after, Trump put out a statement reversing that position, saying abortion providers should be punished if abortion was illegal, not women. Here to walk through what all this means for the campaign is NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Welcome to the show.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hi. How are you?
MCEVERS: Hi. Why was Trump so quick to walk this back today?
MONTANARO: Well, he faced a swift backlash from groups on the left and the right. I mean, this was - never mind Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who had predictable, you know, statements, Hillary Clinton saying that, just when you thought it couldn't get worse. Bernie Sanders called it shameful. He also faced backlash from Ted Cruz and John Kasich, which also might be predictable, given that they're running against him. Cruz said that he doesn't understand pro-life issues. Kasich said that you should not punish women. But pro-life groups, anti-abortion rights groups came out very strongly, very quickly in saying that Trump was wrong here.
MCEVERS: But there was reaction from groups that oppose abortion rights. And why were they so upset with what he said?
MONTANARO: Well, some of what they had to say here is the fact that when Trump said that - seemed open to punishing women, that really crossed a line for them. In the - the March for Life released a statement saying, Mr. Trump's comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life woman - pro-life movement. They said being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. The Concerned Women for America said that Trump also out of touch - used those same words - and that its goals have been - the goals - that its goal is to help those who have been deceived by culture and the industry. And they said no one is advocating for the imprisonment of women seeking abortions. So this is out of the mainstream for the pro-life movement.
MCEVERS: It's unusual to see Donald Trump reverse course and walk something back so quickly. I mean, was this a revealing moment for his candidacy?
MONTANARO: Well, first, I should say that Donald Trump would probably try to argue that this was not a reversal. He's even said my position has not changed. Like Ronald Reagan, I'm pro-life with exceptions. But it's clear from the statement that Donald Trump decided that women - punishing women - he saw the backlash and said that that is not what should be done. He said that it should be the abortion providers or the people who perform abortions that should be the ones who are punished, not women. But this is what you get when you have somebody who's not a politician, who has not been steeped in these policy debates. And this has been a real trigger for these anti-abortion rights groups. And he just doesn't know the pitfalls. I mean, this is what happens, you know? And it could be a potential problem and liability for the Republican Party if Donald Trump is the nominee because, among the list of other groups that have felt offended, 70 percent of women have an - said they had an unfavorable rating of Donald Trump in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and this kind of thing's landing him in controversy. While he hasn't seemed to suffer in a Republican primary, it could certainly hurt him in a general election.
MCEVERS: NPR's Domenico Montanaro - thank you.
MONTANARO: Thank you.