Donald Trump explains to PEOPLE what's behind his quotes about Carly Fiorina, Rosie O'Donnell and Heidi Klum

By Jess Cagle and Charlotte Triggs
Updated September 30, 2015 05:15 PM
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Donald Trump has long been known to make outlandish remarks, but since launching his bid for the presidency in June, he’s caused a stir with his frequent comments on women’s looks.

In an interview with Rolling Stone last month, he called fellow Republican hopeful Carly Fiorina’s viability into question, saying, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”

After a years-long feud with Rosie O’Donnell, Trump publicly blasted her during the first Republican debate, saying he reserved descriptors like “fat pig” and “dog” for her.

And in a recent New York Times article, Trump insulted supermodel Heidi Klum, seemingly at random, saying she was “no longer a ten.”

Asked to explain why he so frequently resorts to insults about physical appearance, Trump goes down the list.

Carly Fiorina? “I was really talking about her persona,” Trump insists.

His long and vicious feud with Rosie O’Donnell? “She’s a horrible bully,” he says, adding that amid their longtime public back and forth, “Frankly there was no way that you could deal with that situation. I had no choice unless I wanted to just sit back and be a punching bag and you know that’s never been my thing.”

As for why he insulted Klum? “That comment was made very innocently,” he says with a shrug. “I like Heidi. And Heidi’s got a lot of confidence.”

While he is clear that he doesn’t quite understand the response his comments elicit, he admits the negative press that has ensued inspires him to be more cautious.

“I’ve become very politically correct recently,” he insists.

But he nonetheless stands by his commentary.

“I find that women fully get it,” he says. “They understand me and they understand life and they’re very sophisticated, they’re very strong and they’re great.”

For much more of our exclusive interview – and at-home photos! – with the Trumps, pick up a copy of the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday