The White House implied today that a Trump supporter at a rally yesterday calling President Obama a Muslim is representative of the GOP as a whole, and used the controversy to take swipes at Congress.
“I think my first observation is, is anybody really surprised that this happened at a Donald Trump rally? I don’t think anybody who’s been paying attention to Republican politics is at all surprised,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
“The reason for that is that the people who hold these offensive views are — these offensive views are part of Mr. Trump’s base, and Mr. Trump himself would be the first to tell you that he’s got the biggest base of any Republican politician these days.”
Earnest noted it was “too bad that he wasn’t able to summon the same kind of patriotism that we saw from Senator McCain, who responded much more effectively — and directly — when one of his supporters at one of his campaign events about seven years ago raised the same kind of false claims.”
At a 2008 campaign event, a woman told Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that Obama was “an Arab.” McCain replied, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent, family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”
Earnest added that “what’s also unfortunate is that Mr. Trump isn’t the first Republican politician to countenance these kinds of views in order to win votes.”
“In fact, that’s precisely what every Republican presidential candidate is doing when they decline to denounce Mr. Trump’s cynical strategy, because they’re looking for those same votes,” he said. “There were other Republicans who successfully used this strategy as well. You’ll recall that one Republican congressman told the reporter that he was David Duke without the baggage. That congressman was elected by a majority of his colleagues in the House of Representatives to the third-highest ranking position in the House.”
That was a hit at Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), drawing off recollections of a home-state reporter when the congressman was a newbie state legislator.
“Those same members of Congress blocked immigration reform. Those same members of Congress oppose reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. Those same members of Congress couldn’t support a simply funding bill, because they’re eager to defend the Confederate flag,” Earnest continued. “So, those are the priorities of today’s Republican party, and they’ll continue to be until someone in the Republican party decides to summon the courage to stand up and change it.”
Asked if Trump should apologize, the press secretary said, “I haven’t seen any evidence to indicate that he’s interested in my advice about what he should do.”
Trump has been silent today, not calling into or appearing on any news shows and canceling a scheduled Heritage Action candidate forum in South Carolina.
In a CNN poll earlier this month, 39 percent thought Obama is Protestant/Christian, 4 percent thought he was Catholic, 1 percent said he’s Jewish, 2 percent thought he’s Mormon, 29 percent said he’s Muslim, and 1 percent thought it was something else.
Eleven percent thought the president just isn’t religious, and 14 percent had no opinion.
Among Trump’s fellow GOP presidential hopefuls, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said a candidate should “stand up to the guy” when such a question is asked.
“I had this happen to me in Iowa where a guy used the N-word and was very derogatory toward President Obama and Muslims. And I said I’m not seeking your vote, I don’t want your vote,” Graham told MSNBC today. “President Obama, I don’t question his faith, I don’t question his patriotism, I don’t question his origin of birth. And when these things happen, you’re not responsible for what the guy says, you are responsible for how you respond.”
The Trump campaign said the real estate mogul was just responding affirmatively to the second part of the question about Muslim training camps in the country.
“Oh, come on, give me a break. You had a chance here to show who you were. This happens to all of us,” Graham said. “…He should come on television, say I made a mistake. We all make mistakes. He’s new to this business. You know, I used to be really afraid of confronting people like this because oh, my goodness, the loudest person in the room, you know, you don’t know what to do. Just let it go, don’t be afraid of losing a vote. Make sure you let people in that audience know why you’re running and what you believe and not try to get everybody’s vote.”