Donald Trump on Friday walked back his claim that President Barack Obama founded the terrorist group ISIS, saying he had just been joking for the past two days. But in many ways, the damage had already been done: Other Republicans had to go on TV and try to defend a comment that their nominee isn’t even standing by any longer.
Trump first made his statement at a campaign rally in Florida Wednesday, telling the crowd, “ISIS is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS, he is the founder of ISIS, OK? He’s the founder.”
“And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton,” he added. “Co-founder. Crooked Hillary Clinton.”
The following day, he doubled down, even after conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt gave him a chance to walk back his comments.
“I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace,” Hewitt said.
“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do,” Trump insisted. “He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”
Hewitt pointed out that Obama is not sympathetic to ISIS, and is trying to take the group out.
“I don’t care. He was the founder,” Trump replied. “His, the way he got out of Iraq was ― that was the founding of ISIS, OK?”
On Friday, however, Trump said he was actually being sarcastic all along.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) said Trump’s statement was “legitimate political commentary.”
“It is true in the sense that before Obama, ISIS was an almost unknown small little organization,” Giuliani told CNN. “He even called it the JV. Totally wrong. And here’s why it happened ― he withdrew the troops from Iraq.”
Former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) told CNN Thursday that Obama and Clinton were contributors to the founding of ISIS, although he still defended Trump’s untruthful comment.
“When he’s speaking, he’s so often speaking to the man on the street, the woman on the street who can identify with clear language,” Kingston said. “And I think he was driving a point.”
“I think Mr. Trump made it crystal clear,” added Trump Special Counsel Michael Cohen on CNN. “For me just to repeat his words, this is a product, a splinter off of al Qaeda, which is the direct result of the pullout of Iraq. ... I don’t have that knowledge on it, but I will say that ISIS came out and we all know this is a splinter of al Qaeda. Mr. Trump holds Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as insiders responsible for this.”
“What Donald Trump is tapping into here is very simple ― that the policies of this administration of which Hillary Clinton was a big member for many years have left us less safe and vulnerable,” GOP pollster and Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC Thursday.
Other Republicans also had to deal with the fallout, at a time they’d no doubt be talking about other things.
“ISIS was founded by radical jihadists, not by the president,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Thursday.
Trump often makes outrageous statements — and then later insists he was just joking. He did it when he kicked a baby out of his rally, and again when he suggested gun owners could assassinate Clinton.
Maybe this is all part of Trump’s long game, as writer Jason Price joked on Twitter: