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Story highlights

Donald Trump said he wasn't referring to Carly Fiorina's looks, but her persona during a magazine interview

Fiorina declined to hit back, but Hillary Clinton said she's be happy to debate any candidates who "delight in insulting women"

Trump continues to lead the GOP pack and his support among Republican women has grown

(CNN) —  

Donald Trump said Thursday that when he suggested Carly Fiorina’s face would make her unelectable, he wasn’t talking about her looks.

“I’m not talking about looks. I’m talking about persona,” Trump told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day.”

That’s how Trump defended the remarks he made about his fellow GOP presidential contender in a Rolling Stone profile published Wednesday.

“Look at that face!” Trump told the magazine while sitting with a Rolling Stone reporter as Fiorina appeared on TV. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president.”

“I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?” Trump said, according to the magazine.

Trump didn’t only call in to CNN. He had a similar message on The View, the afternoon talk show geared toward women.

“Look, I’m talking about her persona,” he said, deflecting to Fiorina’s previous career as CEO of Hewlett Packard. “She failed miserably at Hewlett Packard and ran for the Senate and lost in a landslide and now running for president. I’m talking about her persona.”

RELATED: Trump insults Fiorina in Rolling Stone

Trump further laid out his case on Fox News Thursday night – saying he was acting as an “entertainer” – after host Greta Van Susteren questioned him repeatedly about why he remarked about Fiorina’s appearance.

“Many of those comments are made as entertainer, because I did ‘The Apprentice.’ It was one of the top shows on television,” Trump said. “I decided not to do it again because I wanted to run for president. But some comments are made as an entertainer. And, as everybody said, as an entertainer [it] is a much different ballgame.”

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton was quick to allude to it Thursday morning during a campaign event in Ohio.

“We hear from candidates on the other side about turning back the clock on women’s rights and there is one particular candidate who just seems to delight in insulting women,” Clinton said. “I’m just saying, if he emerges, I would love to debate him.”

Trump leads in new poll, leads with Republican women

Trump continues to defy the laws of politics. Despite previous comments about women, he has surged to become the front-runner for the GOP nomination. He has support of 32% of Republicans in a CNN/ORC poll released Thursday. He has also led in recent polls of early primary and caucus states. And he is the leader among Republican women in the poll: Their growing support for him has helped him solidify his place at the top of the GOP pack.

While he gained just 4 points among men in the last month (from 27% in August to 31% now), he’s up 13 points among women, rising from 20% in August to 33% now.

Trump noted those numbers during his call into The View.

“I did notice in all of the polls and recent polls I’m doing really well with women and really well overall,” he said. “I cherish women. And will protect women. And take care of women. And I have great respect for women.”

RELATED: Trump surges in new CNN / ORC poll

Fiorina declined the opportunity to punch back Wednesday night on Fox News with Megyn Kelly, perhaps preferring instead to let Trump roll around in his own controversy.

“Well, I think those comments speak for themselves,” Fiorina said. “Honestly, Megyn, I’m not going to spend a single cycle wondering what Donald Trump means.”

But then, sensing an opportunity, Fiorina added: “Maybe – just maybe – I’m getting under his skin a little bit, because I am climbing in the polls.”

Trump denied that Fiorina was getting under his skin and pivoted to skewering Fiorina’s business record on CNN Thursday.

RELATED: Forget what Trump says about Fiorina’s face. Her HP record is the issue

“She goes down as one of the worst (CEOs) ever,” Trump said, slamming Fiorina’s “terrible past” in business, including when she was fired as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO.

Fiorina laid off 30,000 employees during her time as HP’s CEO and the company’s stock value was nearly halved during her time as CEO during a controversial merger with Compaq that she led. The company’s stock value rose after Fiorina was fired.

Fiorina has often said on the campaign trail that she lost her job in a “boardroom brawl” and has defended the mass firings.

The company did double its revenue during her time as CEO, largely because of the merger.

CNN Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report