Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump on Sunday refused to apologize for a crude attack on a female Fox News journalist that sparked widespread outrage, insisting he was misunderstood.
The brash billionaire -- who is leading a packed Republican field of White House hopefuls -- found himself at the center of controversy after seeming to suggest that Megyn Kelly, one of the moderators of last week's presidential debate, was tough on him because she was menstruating.
"You can see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever," Trump told CNN on Friday. The comment prompted the organizer of a major conservative forum in Atlanta to withdraw his invitation.
But on Sunday, Trump said only "sick" people or a "deviant" would have concluded he was talking about Kelly's period.
"I cherish women. I want to help women," Trump said in a phone interview with CNN's "State of the Union" news program.
"Who would make a statement like that? Only a sick person would even think about it."
When asked how so many of his fellow candidates and conservative pundits had reached the conclusion about his comment, Trump replied: "They want to be politically correct. They want to get points. I'm leading in the polls."
Trump nevertheless did not offer an apology, saying only that he had "nothing against" Kelly -- and doubled down on his criticism of her, again saying she had asked "unfair" questions of him during the debate.
Trump's top political advisor Roger Stone left the campaign on Saturday, saying on Twitter he disagreed with the "diversion to food fight with @megynkelly."
And Trump's adversaries seized the opportunity to score points against the unlikely frontrunner.
"There's no excuse for this," former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina -- the only woman in the Republican field -- told Fox News Sunday.
"You don't get things done by insulting people."
Several of the candidates including Fiorina, and Jeb Bush have asked Trump to apologize. Kelly has so far not commented.
But the real estate mogul hit back Sunday at Bush, who had himself been in hot water over a comment on funding for women's health.
"Jeb was very negative on women's health. And when you're negative on women's health, you can forget about it," Trump said.