Donald Trump expressed no regret Saturday over refraining from correcting the man who falsely called President Obama a Muslim earlier this week.
Mr. Trump's inaction has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, and raised the questions of integrity and whether a presidential candidate has a moral obligation to correct inaccuracies on the campaign trail. Recent history on the subject offers a mixed record.
Unlike then-Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008, Trump did not dispute the allegations of a man in New Hampshire on Thursday, when he stood up at a town hall event and referred to Muslims as “a problem in this country” and accused Obama of being one as well.
“We know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American,” the man said.
“We have training camps growing where they want to kill us,” he continued. “That's my question. When can we get rid of it?"
“You know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there,” Trump responded. “We're going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
“Trump's campaign manager later said that Trump had had trouble hearing in the busy room,” reports The Associated Press. But “the man had been amplified by a microphone and could be heard by reporters seated in the back of the auditorium.”
The Republican frontrunner took to Twitter on Saturday to respond. “Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him?” he wrote. “I don't think so!”
Obama would not have done the same for him, said Trump. “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!”
Trump went on to slam the president for not defending Christians’ religious freedoms, saying, “Christians need support in our country (and around the world), their religious liberty is at stake! Obama has been horrible, I will be great.”
The dispute marks a somewhat ironic twist for Trump, who himself landed GOP nominee Mitt Romney in a similar predicament in 2012 by raising a comparable line of questioning about whether President Obama was born in America.
Romney declined repeatedly to correct Trump on this issue. “I don't agree with all the people who support me. And my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in,” Mr. Romney had then said, according to the AP. “But I need to get 50.1 percent or more.”
Trump’s response is also being compared to Sen. McCain’s, who in 2008 was confronted by a questioner at a campaign event claiming Obama was “an Arab."
“Trump is no John McCain,” wrote The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier Friday. “McCain responded immediately that Obama was ‘a decent family man, [a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.’”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said as much in his daily briefing on Friday, according to CNN.
“Is anyone really surprised that this happened at a Donald Trump rally?” said Mr. Earnest. “The people who hold these offensive views are part of Mr. Trump's base.”