Republican Donald Trump called U.S. President Barack Obama and Democrat Hillary Clinton the “co-founders” of Islamic State, ratcheting up his assertion that they are responsible for the rise of the militant group and sparking renewed criticism of his leadership ability.
Clinton’s White House campaign on Thursday called the remarks a “false claim,” in her latest response to a series of attacks by Trump in which he has sought to portray America as less safe, blame Democrats and depict himself as the only one who can restore security.
Democrats, in turn, have used Trump’s often hyperbolic statements ahead of the Nov. 8 election to argue he is unfit to be president and lacks the temperament to be trusted with matters of national security.
“This is another example of Donald Trump trash-talking the United States,” senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
“What’s remarkable about Trump’s comments is that once again, he’s echoing the talking points of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and our adversaries to attack American leaders and American interests, while failing to offer any serious plans to confront terrorism or make this country more secure,” Sullivan said.
For Republicans uncertain about whether Trump has the discipline to stick to an attack against Clinton, the latest comments were concerning. Many see the New York real estate mogul as spending too much time fighting within his own party and have called on him to refocus his campaign message on Clinton.
“ISIS is a solid GOP message to show contrast with Hillary Clinton and the failures of the Obama-Clinton administration,” said Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist who remains undecided about the nominee, using acronyms for Islamic State and the Republican Party.
But, she added, “Trump should have simply said that the Obama administration’s decision to pull all troops out of Iraq, with no stay-behind agreement, created a vacuum and allowed ISIS to metastasize. It’s absurd for him to say that Obama and Clinton are founders of ISIS – and he can’t blame the media for this.”
A group of about 70 Republicans, including five former members of Congress, called on the Republican National Committee to stop helping Trump in the wake of his recent remarks and instead focus on getting members of Congress re-elected.
“Trump’s divisive and dangerous actions are not only a threat to our other candidates, but to our party and the nation,” the letter stated.
Some Republicans see a small silver lining in Trump talking more about Clinton.
“It is helpful – at least to the rest of the ticket – that he is focusing a little more on Clinton than on other Republicans, whether defeated primary opponents or other elected officials who are on the ballot, for a change,” said former New Hampshire Republican Chairman Fergus Cullen, who is not supporting Trump.
“But tomorrow, or later today, he could blame (Republican Senator) Jeff Flake for A-Rod’s retirement,” Cullen said, referring to Yankees player Alexander Rodriguez’s decision to leave professional baseball. “I have zero confidence in Trump’s ability to stay on one message or to drive one message for any length of time longer than about 10 seconds.”
CRITICISM OF IRAQ WAR
Trump has previously criticized Clinton for supporting the Iraq War in 2003 while she was a U.S. senator. Trump frequently says, in contrasting himself with Clinton, that he opposed the war – but in interviews before the invasion he did voice support.
Now, Trump is arguing that in trying to end the war and withdrawing U.S. troops in 2011, Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, and Obama created Islamic State.
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