WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump is blaming the media for misunderstanding controversial remarks he made this week about President Barack Obama being the “founder” of ISIS and Hillary Clinton being the terror group’s “co-founder.”
The real estate mogul seemed to think media outlets’ supposed inability to understand his humor was a laughing matter in its own right.
“I love watching these poor, pathetic people (pundits) on television working so hard and so seriously to try and figure me out,” he tweeted an hour later. “They can’t!”
Trump first made the false and outrageous allegations against Obama and Clinton on Wednesday.
“ISIS is honoring President Obama,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Florida. “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.”
Trump’s attempt to deny that he meant this literally is a stark contrast to several comments he made Thursday.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt suggested to the GOP nominee that he meant Obama’s foreign policy had created the conditions for ISIS to thrive, rather than that the president had actually participated in the terror group’s creation. Hewitt cited Obama’s policies in Libya, Egypt and Syria as potential culprits.
But Trump would not budge.
“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award,” he said. “I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”
Trump made similar comments on CNBC later that day.
Trump appeared to make one concession to the policy argument in his conversation with Hewitt, even as he claimed that the literal meaning of his remarks still stood.
“He was the founder,” Trump said. “His, the way he got out of Iraq was ― that was the founding of ISIS, OK?”
Here Trump echoes more typical Republican arguments that Obama withdrew from Iraq too quickly, undermining the stability that had been achieved there and allowing ISIS to take hold. (In fact, the self-described Islamic State emerged from a Sunni insurgent group created by the Iraq War; many of its top leaders are former Saddam Hussein loyalists.)
But as recently as 2008, Trump himself called for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq without apparent concern for the potential risks.
To make matters more complicated, Trump appeared to walk back his insistence that he was being sarcastic, albeit with more than a little bit of evident humor, while speaking at a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, later on Friday.
“Obviously I’m being sarcastic ― but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you,” he said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
This is the third time in a matter of weeks that Trump has been criticized for offensive statements that have later been explained away as being jokes.
Trump said on July 27 that he hoped Russia, which he said could have hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails, had Clinton’s missing State Department emails as well ― and would release them. He insisted the next day that he was just being “sarcastic.”
And just this Tuesday, the real estate mogul was widely criticized for suggesting that “Second Amendment people” might be able to stop Clinton from appointing judges. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has routinely found himself condemning a Republican standard bearer he continues to endorse, dismissed the comment as a “joke gone bad.”
Trump himself did not explicitly call the statement a joke, instead claiming that he meant gun rights advocates could prevent Clinton’s election by flocking to the polls.
As with the ISIS comments, however, he blamed the media for misunderstanding him.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S.
This article has been updated with comments from Trump's rally in Pennsylvania on Friday.