Donald Trump was hardly the first to face this situation and won’t be the last. Candidates are confronted with all sorts of comments on the campaign trail, including plenty that are inaccurate and some that are sure to offend.
How should they respond?
On Thursday, GOP presidential candidate Trump faced such a moment when a supporter at a town hall event complained about Muslims in the country and stated that President Barack Obama is Muslim. Actually he is Christian.
Here’s a look at how Trump and other candidates before him have handled such situations.
— Donald Trump:
“We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims,” began the questioner — the first Trump had selected at a post-debate rally in the early voting state of New Hampshire.
“We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American,” the man said.
Trump, who once was a driver of the “birther” movement that falsely claimed Obama wasn’t born in the U.S, first laughed off the question, but let the man continue.
“We have training camps growing where they want to kills us. That’s my question. When can we get rid of it?” the questioner said.
Trump, who has shot to the front of the GOP pack with his own controversial statements, did not dispute the man.
“You know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there,” Trump responded. “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
Trump’s campaign manager later said that Trump had had trouble hearing in the busy room, though the man had been amplified by a microphone and could be heard by reporters seated in the back of the auditorium.
— John McCain:
In 2008, Republican presidential nominee McCain took questions from several angry voters that became a signature moment of the campaign. One of the questioners said he was fearful of a possible Obama presidency. Another claimed the future president was Arab.
“First of all, I want to be president of the United States and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be. But I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States,” said McCain. The response earned him boos from the crowd.
He was equally quick to correct a woman who said of Obama: “He’s an Arab.”
“No ma’am,” replied McCain. “He’s a decent, family man citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that’s what this campaign is all about.”
— Mitt Romney:
In 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney faced his own criticism on the campaign trail for failing to correct inaccurate statements, including those from none other than Donald Trump.
Romney declined repeatedly to correct Trump, then a much-courted donor, for repeatedly questioning Obama’s birth certificate and place of birth.
Ahead of one fundraising event in Las Vegas, Trump repeated his suspicions that Obama was born outside the country and therefore was unqualified for the office of the president.
Pressed by reporters to disavow Trump’s comments, Romney took a pass.
“I don’t agree with all the people who support me. And my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in,” Romney said. “But I need to get 50.1 percent or more.”
He also thanked Trump at the event “for twisting the arms that it takes to bring a fundraiser together,” adding: “I appreciate your help.”
— Bill Clinton:
Candidate Clinton had perhaps the best-known reaction to an inflammatory statement — though not one made to him at a campaign event — when he inserted himself into a racial conversation by denouncing a rap star who’d said in a newspaper interview that, “if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”
Clinton, who in 1992 was courting African-American voters, addressed the comments in detail during an appearance in front of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. Clinton quoted extensively from the remarks the rapper had made to The Washington Post and then proceeded to denounce them.
“I defend her right to express herself through music. But her comments before and after Los Angeles were filled with a kind of hatred that you do not honor today and tonight,” he said.
“If you took the words white and black and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech,” he added, referring to the white supremacist.
His own words have come to be called a “Sister Souljah moment” in politics.
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