GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump on Saturday said he's not "morally obligated to defend the president" against inaccurate claims from supporters.
Trump, who is leading in the polls for the Republican nomination, blasted out a series of tweets amid mounting criticism that he did not cut off an event attendee who questioned President Obama’s citizenship and religion.
If the roles were reversed, Trump predicted Obama would not come to his defense.
Trump received plenty of blowback Friday after he failed to shut down a supporter in New Hampshire who alleged Obama is a Muslim, as well as not an American. The questioner added that “we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”
Many have said Trump should have followed the lead of 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who cut off a woman who made similar comments about Obama during that election. But Trump has a history with the birther movement, fueling questions about Obama’s citizenship during the 2012 election, which eventually spurred Obama to release his long-form birth certificate to end any doubt that he was born in Hawaii in 1961.
Even rival GOP candidate Jeb Bush came to Obama’s defense in a speech Friday night in Michigan.
"Barack Obama is a talented man — and by the way he's an American, he's a Christian — his problem isn't the fact that he was born here or what his faith is," Bush said, according to reports. "His problem is that he's a progressive liberal who tears down anybody that disagrees with him."
President Obama is throwing more punches at the Republicans vying to take his place in the White House as the 2016 campaign enters a busy fall.
Obama this week went after GOP front-runner Donald Trump, as did Vice President Biden, who is considering his own presidential bid.
The president on Monday traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, for the official purpose of promoting his college affordability initiatives. But it also gave him a platform to sound off on the Republican field when it comes to immigration.
“This whole anti-immigrant sentiment that’s out there in our politics right now is contrary to who we are,” Obama said, drawing applause from the audience at North High School in Des Moines. “Because unless you are a Native American, your family came from someplace else.”
It wasn’t the first time Obama has waded into the 2016 waters, but the increased frequency of his barbs indicates he is ready to get more involved in the race.
A White House official said there are not yet any major strategic discussions underway about Obama’s role in the 2016 campaign. But the aide also expects the president to defend his record against GOP attacks and boost the Democratic nominee.
“He will be vocal about laying out what’s at stake in this race and the choice that voters face,” the aide said. “There is an expectation he is going to take an active role on the campaign. But we’re just not at the point where the details of that have been sketched out.”
Obama is banking on a Democrat to succeed him in order to preserve legacy items, such as his healthcare law and the Iran nuclear agreement. What voters think about Obama is likely to be a major factor in determining whether Democrats can hold the White House for three consecutive terms — something the party hasn’t pulled off since the days of Harry Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Buoyed by improving national poll numbers, the president is in position to deliver a boost to the Democratic field, whose front-runner, Hillary Clinton, has suffered from a controversy surrounding her use of a private email server as secretary of State.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Obama’s approval rating on the economy is in the black for the first time since last March. His overall approval rating sits at 49 percent, the highest it has been since January.
According to Gallup’s daily tracking poll, the president’s approval has remained relatively stable at 46 percent this year. By comparison, George W. Bush was at 36 percent at thesame point during his second term.
Those numbers could make it easier for Democratic candidates to embrace Obama, rather than run away from his record.
Obama, who boasted this summer he could win a third term, appears to think he is well positioned to defend his record on the economy, an issue that typically tops the list of concerns for American voters.
Trump’s message that, under Obama’s watch, the U.S. is being beaten by nations such as China and Mexico has particularly irked the president and West Wing staff. Without mentioning Trump by name, Obama offered an unprompted rebuke to his “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“Despite the perennial doom and gloom that I guess is inevitably part of a presidential campaign, America is winning right now,” he told a group of business executives on Wednesday. “America is great right now.”
Obama’s sharp tongue could be one of his biggest assets in the lead up to the general election, according to some Democrats and political observers.
“Someone is going to need to make the case against the Republicans,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who is not affiliated with a candidate. “Clinton and [Sen. Bernie] Sanders are going to preoccupied with each other. The president is ideally suited to do so.”
Having already run his last campaign, Obama can be more aggressive in going after Republicans than the Democratic nominee, who will be concerned with winning over independent voters, according to Julian Zelizer, professor of public affairs at Princeton University.
“When he does intervene, his statements will be tough and hard-hitting, making Democratic voters see what's at stake here,” Zelizer said.
Obama could also help hold together the coalition of young people, women and minority voters any Democratic candidate would need to win.
To that end, the White House is mindful of how powerful the immigration issue can be, especially when it comes to Hispanic and Asian American voters.
It launched a nationwide campaign this week to encourage almost 9 million eligible legal residents to become U.S. citizens, a move that would also add to the voter rolls ahead of next year’s election.
“The secret to any Democrat winning the race is reaching out to the same coalition of the ascendant that elected Barack Obama president twice,” Bannon said. “If we didn’t have blacks, if we didn’t have Latinos, if we didn’t have young people, John McCain would be ending his second term now.”
Still, there are risks for Democrats of having Obama heavily involved in the 2016 debate. It could open up the nominee to attacks from Republicans that the candidate is simply running for a third Obama term.
Republicans point to data showing Obama’s approval rating underwater in key battleground states he won in 2012, including Colorado, Florida and Iowa, as evidence that voters are ready for a change.
“The more President Obama inserts himself into the race, the more he will remind the American people that Hillary Clinton — or whoever the Democrats nominate —isn’t offering the change in direction voters overwhelmingly want," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement to The Hill.
To fend off that criticism, Democratic candidates are trying to draw distinctions with Obama.
Clinton, who served as Obama’s top diplomat for four years, has sought to distance herself from her former boss on foreign policy. She said this month she would have been quicker to arm rebels fighting opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“The tendency is to separate oneself from the problems and controversy associated with the incumbent,” Zelizer said. “None of the Democrats want to give the GOP room to make them appear like a third term of president Obama. Nor are they convinced that he can be as effective campaigning for someone else as he was for himself.”