Orlando: Republican Donald Trump tried to brush off the latest furor to envelop his struggling White House campaign on Friday, saying he was just being sarcastic when he called President Barack Obama and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton the founders of Islamic State.
Trump used the unfounded description on Wednesday night and all day on Thursday during campaign appearances in Florida. In an interview on Thursday with radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Trump said he meant what he said.
"I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player," Trump said, using an acronym for the militant Islamist group, adding Clinton also deserved the award.
But in a tweet on Friday, he called the comments sarcasm.
It was the same tactic he used to try to quell the controversy after he invited Russia in late July to dig up tens of thousands of "missing" emails from Clinton`s time as U.S. secretary of state.
"Ratings challenged @CNN reports so seriously that I call President Obama (and Clinton) `the founder` of ISIS, & MVP. THEY DON`T GET SARCASM?" he tweeted.
Trump`s accusation against Obama and Clinton went well beyond a charge made in the past by him and other Republicans: that the president and former secretary of state helped create the conditions for the rise of Islamic State by withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
Trump scheduled a speech in Warren, Ohio, on Monday that will focus on how he would handle the threat posed by Islamic State. Trump has said he would "knock the hell out of ISIS," without offering details, and would persuade Gulf states to bankroll safe zones for Syrian refugees so they would not have to be brought to the United States.
Trump, a New York businessman who has never held elected office, has been mired in repeated controversies in recent days. He drew heavy criticism earlier this week after he suggested gun rights activists could take action against Clinton, a statement he later said was aimed at rallying votes against her.
He trails Clinton in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Many establishment Republicans, alarmed by a steady flow of controversial remarks that have distracted from the campaign battle against Clinton, have distanced themselves from Trump in recent weeks.
Nearly one-fifth of registered Republicans now want Trump to drop out of the race for the White House, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.
On Monday 50 prominent Republican national security officials, including a former CIA director, called Trump unqualified to lead the country and said he would be "the most reckless president in American history."
Trump has blamed the U.S. news media for taking many of his comments out of context, and on Thursday night, some of his supporters heckled and cursed reporters who covered the rally in a large arena in Kissimmee.
Trump campaign officials were scheduled to meet with Republican National Committee officials in Orlando for what was described as a routine meeting to discuss operations in Florida, a battleground state that Trump needs to win.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus had privately expressed frustrations at Trump`s delay endorsing House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan in his primary contest for re-election.
Trump was scheduled to hold rallies in Erie and Altoona, Pennsylvania, on Friday.
Republicans frequently trace the birth of Islamic State to the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw the last U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.
But many analysts argue its roots lie in the decision of George W. Bush’s Republican administration to invade Iraq in 2003 without a plan to fill the vacuum created by Saddam Hussein’s ouster. It was Bush’s administration, not Obama’s, that negotiated the 2009 agreement that called for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.