Donald Trump abruptly canceled a South Carolina appearance today, claiming he had an unexpected business commitment.
The move came amid an uproar over Trump’s failure to correct a questioner at a New Hampshire town hall event who claimed President Barack Obama was a Muslim and asked Trump who the U.S. could “get rid” of Muslims.
“Mr. Trump has a significant business transaction that was expected to close Thursday,” said a statement from his campaign. “Due to the delay he is unable to attend today’s Heritage Action Presidential Forum. He sends his regrets and looks forward to being with the great people of South Carolina on Wednesday in Columbia.”
Controversy ensued after a man attending a Trump event said to the GOP presidential candidate, “We have a problem in this country and it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one, you know he’s not even an American.”
It was the first question of the event and Trump exclaimed, “We need this question!” But he pledged to “look into” the matter -- a statement that campaign said later was about the man’s subsequent question about Muslim “training camps” in the U.S.
Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, and some Republicans, including rival presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. criticized Trump for failing to speak up. In the 2008 campaign, GOP nominee John McCain took the microphone away from a woman at an event who said that Obama was “an Arab” and corrected her.
The president is Christian and U.S. born, though Trump enthusiastically supported the so-called “birther” efforts of critics who said Obama was not born in the U.S., forcing Obama in 2011 to present his Hawaiian birth certificate.
The Trump campaign also announced today that he would appear Saturday in Iowa at several events, including the Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines.
At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest used Trump’s refusal to confront the questioner at the event to condone most of the Republican party for not repudiating Trump.
“Is anybody really surprised that this happened at a Donald Trump rally?” Earnest said. “I don’t think anybody who’s been paying attention to Republican politics is at all surprised.”
He said those holding such “offensive views” are part of Trump’s base, and noted “Mr. Trump himself would be the first to tell you that he’s got the biggest base of any Republican politician these days.”
He praised McCain for showing “patriotism” for confronting the woman in 2008, but accused other Republicans of putting up with similar sentiments.
“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,” Earnest charged.
Asked whether Trump should apologize to the president, Earnest said he hadn’t seen “any evidence to indicate that (Trump is) interested in my advice about what he should do.”
A considerable swath of Americans have continued to question Obama’s birthplace and religion, even seven years into office. A CNN poll this week found that 29 percent of Americans think Obama is Muslim, including 43 percent of Republicans.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, called on Trump to clarify his remarks.
“In failing to challenge the questioner’s anti-Muslim bigotry and his apparent call for the ethnic cleansing of American Muslims, Donald Trump sent the message that Islamophobia is acceptable,” said CAIR government affairs manager Robert McCaw.
Lesley Clark contributed to this report