Trump on Fiorina: I didn’t mean her looks when I criticized her face!

Updated

Donald Trump now says he wasn’t talking about his 2016 campaign rival Carly Fiorina’s looks when he criticized her physical appearance as unpresidential.

“Look at that face!” Trump recently told Rolling Stone of Fiorina. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”

But Trump told Fox News on Thursday that he was referring to her “persona.”

RELATED: Trump vs. Fiorina: can he overcome the controversy?

“I’m talking about persona, I’m not talking about looks,” Trump said. “Though when I get criticized constantly about my hair, which isn’t that bad.”

“The fact is that Carly Fiorina has had a terrible past, she was fired viciously from Hewlett Packard,” he added in a separate  interview on CNN’s “New Day.” “She goes down as one of the worst [CEOs] ever, the company practically cratered, thousands of jobs lost.”

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton clearly isn’t buying Trump’s excuses. At a campaign stop Thursday in Columbus, Ohio she won huge applause when by calling out the real estate mogul’s history of indelicate remarks about women without mentioning him by name. ” … There is one particular candidate who just seems to delight in insulting women every chance he gets,” Clinton said. “I have to say if he emerges, I would love to debate him.” 

Trump has backtracked like this before. He eventually claimed he was talking about Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s nose when he said she had blood coming out of her wherever, during the first top-tier 2016 GOP presidential debate in August. Trump’s remarks were widely perceived to be an implication that Kelly was menstruating while moderating.

Fiorina’s been surging in polls since her breakout performance in the “happy hour” debate in August and this rise has helped secure her a spot on the main debate stage, where she’ll face Trump side-by-side for the first time.

The Republican front-runner also slammed Dr. Ben Carson on Thursday morning, signaling Trump won’t be holding his tongue when it comes to the other political outsiders in the race. Previously, Trump had focused his attacks on career politicians, painting himself as an outsider and his opponents as tools of the political establishment, but as Carson and Fiorina have started to show strength in the polls, it’s clear he wants to distinguish himself from them too. 

On Wednesday, Fiorina told Fox News that Trump’s comments “speak for themselves” but that she didn’t plan to spend time thinking about Trump.

“… Maybe, just maybe, I’m getting under his skin a little bit, because I am climbing in the polls,” Fiorina said.

Trump denied this on Thursday. “She’s not getting under my skin, she’s got 3% in the poll,” he told Fox.

A CNN/ORC national poll released on Thursday ranked Fiorina at 3%, while an NBC News/ Marist poll out this week Fiorina tied with Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Rand Paul, all at 5%.

Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Trump on Fiorina: I didn’t mean her looks when I criticized her face!

Updated