Trump: I Would Have 'Just Listened' If Supporter Had Opposed Black People
Donald Trump on Sunday defended his failure to challenge a supporter who made anti-Muslim remarks at one of his presidential campaign rallies, by saying he would have responded the same way if the man had attacked black people.
Speaking as new polls indicated that he continues to lead the Republican 2016 primary field, Trump rejected suggestions that he was wrong to indulge the man, who told him in New Hampshire on Thursday: “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims.”
Asked on CNN if he would have felt moved to correct the supporter if the man had said “we have a problem in this world, it’s called blacks”, Trump refused to back down.
“No, I would have probably just listened to his question,” he said. “I mean, who am I?”
Trump has been sharply criticised for his response to the supporter, who stated President Obama was Muslim and claimed “we have training camps, growing, where they want to kill us” while asking the opening question at the rally in Derry.
“A lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there,” Trump replied. “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
The controversy, to which Trump first replied in a series of tweets on Saturday, has affected other Republican candidates for president. In an appearance on NBC on Sunday, the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has been running second to Trump in recent polls, said no Muslim should ever be US president.
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” Carson said, adding that he thought Islam was incompatible with the US constitution.
The Ohio governor John Kasich, another White House hopeful, was asked on NBC if he would have a problem with a Muslim president.
“You know, I mean, that’s such a hypothetical question,” he said.
In a recent Gallup poll, 38% of voters said they would not vote for a Muslim as president.
Asked on Sunday if he didn’t feel a responsibility to challenge what CNN’s Jake Tapper described as “raw, unvarnished, ignorant bigotry”, Trump said: “Well, you know, we could be politically correct if you want, but are you trying to say we don’t have a problem?”
Having delivered his now-standard disclaimer that he knew some unidentified American Muslims who were “fabulous people”, Trump insisted that “we certainly do have a problem” relating to Muslims, and added: “We have a problem throughout the world.
“We have radicals that are doing things,” said Trump. “I mean, it wasn’t people from Sweden who blew up the World Trade Center.”
Interviewed later on ABC News, Trump refused to say whether or not he believed Obama was a Muslim born overseas. The property tycoon has in recent years been a leading light in the so-called “birther” movement based around the conspiracy theory that the president was born in Kenya.
“I don’t get into it,” Trump repeated on Sunday, when asked if Obama was born in the US. “Frankly, it’s no longer of interest to me.”
Subsequently asked if the president was a Muslim, Trump again demurred. “I don’t like talking about someone else’s faith,” he said.
Asked the same question minutes after Trump, an exasperated Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, another 2016 presidential hopeful, told ABC Obama “was born in the United States. He’s a Christian.”
A new poll by CNN on Sunday found that while Trump was still the Republican frontrunner with 24% of support, he had suffered an eight-point decline from earlier in September.
The CNN survey said Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, had climbed to second place in the race with 15% support. Fiorina’s rise followed the party’s televised debate on Wednesday night, which more than half of people surveyed said Fiorina had won.
Trump repeated attacks on Fiorina’s record in business on Sunday morning and said: “If you listen to her for more than five minutes straight, you get a headache.”
An NBC online survey published on Sunday said Trump’s support among Republican and Republican-leaning voters had actually grown in the past month, rising to 29% from 22% in August.
Trump’s support was more than twice that of his nearest rival – Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and author, who polled at 14%.
Almost a third of respondents said they expected Trump to be the eventual Republican nominee.