Donald Trump refused to back down from his claims that President Obama is the “founder of ISIS” on Thursday, doubling down on his assertion that both Obama and Clinton are their biggest supporters.
Speaking on CNBC’s “Squawkbox”, Trump said Obama was “the founder of ISIS, uh, absolutely”.
The inflammatory accusation comes as Trump has set off another round of hand-wringing within the Republican Party, returning to his freewheeling ways after the GOP convention with overtures for Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, attacks on the Muslim-American family of a fallen war hero, and a suggestion that “Second Amendment people” are the only ones who can stop Clinton.
On Thursday, Trump showed no signs of backing down or reining it in.
After first leveling the terror-related accusation against Obama and Clinton at a Wednesday night rally, Trump made the claim three more times on Thursday — all before noon.
“Our government isn’t giving us good protection. Our government has unleashed ISIS,” he said as he addressed the National Association of Home Builders in Miami. “I call President Obama and Hillary Clinton the founders of ISIS. They’re the founders. In fact, I think we’ll give Hillary Clinton the — you know, if you’re on a sports team, most valuable player, MVP, you get the MVP award — ISIS will hand her the most valuable player award.
Her only competition is Barack Obama.”
His remarks echoed his sentiments earlier Thursday during a phone interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” during which he also named Obama the MVP of ISIS.
“He gets the most valuable player award. Him and Hillary, she gets it too. I gave her co-founder if you really looked at this speech,” Trump said. “But he and Hillary get the most valuable player award having to do with Iraq, and having to do with the ISIS situation, or as he would call it, ISIL. He calls it ISIL because nobody else does and he probably wants to bother people by using another term, whether it’s more accurate or not.”
The Manhattan billionaire bristled at the notion that referring to the president and his former secretary of state as the co-founders of a terrorist group intent on killing Americans was somehow inappropriate. He said that he has been successful thus far as a political outsider throughout the election cycle by speaking his mind, and if that ends up costing him the general election, so be it.
“Is there something wrong with saying that? Are people complaining that I said he was the founder of ISIS?” Trump said. “Look, all I do is tell the truth. I’m a truth teller. All I do is tell the truth.”
“If at the end of 90 days I fall in short because I’m somewhat politically incorrect even though I’m supposed to be the smart one and even though I’m supposed to have a lot of good ideas, it’s okay,” he continued. “I go back to a very good way of life.”
In a radio interview later Thursday morning on the Hugh Hewitt Show, Trump would not back away from his “founder” line of attack against Obama even when offered an out by the host, who suggested to the Manhattan billionaire that “I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.”
“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do,” Trump interrupted Hewitt to say. “He’s the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”
“But he’s not sympathetic to them,” Hewitt replied. “He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.”
“I don’t care. He was the founder,” Trump said. “The way he got out of Iraq, that was the founding of ISIS.”
Trump also claimed on Thursday that the Islamic State is rooting for Clinton to win in November. “Oh boy, is ISIS hoping for her,” he told the NAHB crowd in Miami. “Is China hoping — can you imagine China? They’d come in. You ever negotiate with the Chinese? They’re tough. They’re tough. You gotta him them back with a lot of energy.”
Clinton’s campaign on Thursday morning hit back against the “false claim” that Obama founded the Islamic State and accused Trump of “trash-talking the United States.”
“It goes without saying that this is a false claim from a presidential candidate with an aversion to the truth and an unprecedented lack of knowledge,” Clinton’s senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “What’s remarkable about Trump’s comments is that once again, he’s echoing the talking points of Putin and our adversaries to attack American leaders and American interests, while failing to offer any serious plans to confront terrorism or make this country more secure.”
On Twitter, Clinton herself jumped to the president’s defense with a series of posts Thursday afternoon that preceded her economic policy speech in Michigan.
“It can be difficult to muster outrage as frequently as Donald Trump should cause it, but his smear against President Obama requires it,” she wrote, adding an emphatic rejection of the premise Trump spent the morning building up: “No, Barack Obama is not the founder of ISIS.”
“Anyone willing to sink so low, so often should never be allowed to serve as our Commander-in-Chief,” she wrote in the third and final post of the sequence.
Former New York City Mayor and Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani defended the connection the GOP nominee drew between Obama and the Islamic State in an interview on CNN’s “New Day” Thursday morning. Giuliani said labeling Obama as the militant group’s founder is fair because it was the president’s military and foreign policies that led to the group’s inception and growth.
“I think what he is saying there is legitimate political commentary,” Giuliani said. “Before Obama, ISIS was an almost unknown small little organization. He even called it the JV. Totally wrong. Here is why it happened: Because he withdrew the troops from Iraq.”
At her Thursday morning press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi equated Trump’s accusation to “verbal poo-poo” and said it amounted to little more than an attempt by the GOP nominee to garner attention for himself and his campaign, no matter the cost.
“For him to turn around and say what he did about the president and the secretary is so bizarre. It’s reminiscent of demagogues who want to be in the press no matter what they have to say,” she said. “They make their verbal poo poo any place to get attention. And this is a tactic. This is not an accident. This is a tactic, and here we are talking about it.”
In an unhelpful development for the Obama administration, a Republican House task force investigating allegations of intelligence manipulation issued an initial report on Thursday concluding that the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, put a rosier spin on its progress in the war against the Islamic State than was warranted by the facts on the ground.
The task force, however, stopped short of alleging any kind of White House conspiracy to manipulate intelligence reports.
While Trump’s most recent accusations are some of his strongest against Obama, it is far from the first time that the reality TV star has suggested that the president might harbor sympathies for terrorist groups. In the wake of June’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump attacked Obama’s unwillingness to specifically identify the attack as an act of “radical Islamic terrorism.” Of Obama’s response to the terrorist attack and others like it, Trump said “He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It’s one or the other.”
“We’re led by a man who is a very — look, we’re led by a man that either is, is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends” in June. “And the something else in mind, you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot — they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the ways he acts and can’t even mention the words radical Islamic terrorism. There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable.”
Even before he officially entered the political world, Trump was a regular thorn in the president’s side. The Manhattan billionaire was the loudest and most prominent voice of the so-called “birther” movement, a group who believed Obama was born in Kenya and was not eligible to become president. Trump made regular public requests for the president to make his birth certificate publicly available, which Obama did.
Trump on Thursday did offer an optimistic note, stating that the polls, which have lately shown Clinton with a double-digit lead nationally, “are closing up very rapidly, which is fine.” As he often does, he pointed to the massive crowds he draws at his rallies as evidence that his support is as strong as ever. He implied that polls have failed to accurately capture that support and that “I have a whole group of people out there that people don’t even know about.”
“Just keep doing the same thing I’m doing right now,” he said when asked what he needed to do to close Clinton’s growing advantage in swing states. “At the end it’s either going to work or I’m going to, you know, I’m going to have a very, very nice long vacation.”