Facing wide condemnation for not correcting a supporter’s assertions that President Obama was a Muslim foreigner or that Muslims were a problem in the U.S. and operating terrorist training camps, Donald Trump has finally commented on the controversy via Twitter, and true to form, he isn’t apologizing. In a series of five tweets posted Saturday, Trump remarked:
Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don’t think so! This is the first time in my life that I have caused controversy by NOT saying something. If someone made a nasty or controversial statement about me to the president, do you really think he would come to my rescue? No chance! If I would have challenged the man, the media would have accused me of interfering with that man’s right of free speech. A no win situation! Christians need support in our country (and around the world), their religious liberty is at stake! Obama has been horrible, I will be great.
Trump’s campaign had previously indicated that he hadn’t fully heard the supporter’s question, though the candidate himself has a long history of questioning the President’s birthplace and faith.
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush has added his own criticism of Trump over the incident to a chorus that includes Republicans Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Lindsey Graham, as well as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, and the White House. Speaking in Michigan Friday night, Bush said, “By the way, [Obama’s] an American, he’s a Christian. His problem isn’t that he was born here or what his religion is, his problem is that he tears down anyone that disagrees with him.” Looking at the rest of the Republican field, Rick Santorum has remarked that “it’s not Donald Trump’s job to police a questioner,” while fellow GOP candidates Ben Carson, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz have thus far neither condemned nor supported Trump’s handling of the situation, but Carson said on Sunday that he personally believed Obama was both a citizen and Christian, though he also said he didn’t think it was appropriate for a Muslim to be president, in any case.
Update: Saturday night, Trump made additional comments regarding the issue. After an event addressing some high school students in Iowa, Trump told CNN: “I love the Muslims. I think they’re great people.” CNN also reports that during the event a student asked Trump if he would consider a Muslim for his ticket or a cabinet position, to which he responded, “Oh, absolutely. No problem with that.”
Commenting further on a few Sunday morning political shows, Trump announced on Meet the Press that “Muslims are excellent. I know so many Muslims that are such fabulous people,” and tried to refocus the debate on the “worldwide problem” of Muslim extremists. Remarked Trump on ABC’s This Week, “It wasn’t people from Sweden that blew up the World Trade Center.” And when Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked him if he would ever support a Muslim president in the U.S., Trump responded, “Would I be comfortable? I don’t know if we have to address it right now. Some people have said it already happened.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that at another event in Iowa on Saturday, Trump suggested he handled last week’s Muslim question better than John McCain did with a similar assertion about Obama at a town-hall-style event during the 2008 presidential campaign. In that case, then-candidate McCain rejected a crowd member’s statement that she couldn’t trust Obama because he was an Arab. In response, McCain shook his head and took the microphone back, telling her, “No, ma’am, no ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues,’’ later adding, “He is a decent person, and a person who you do not have to be scared [of] as President.” McCain also said at that event that he admired Obama and urged his supporters to be respectful of him. On Saturday in Iowa, Trump said McCain had “ripped” the microphone out of the woman’s hands, which he declared “a little bit harsh,” and reiterated that if he had responded differently to the anti-Muslim questioner last week, he would have been accused of violating the man’s right to free speech.