The White House blasted GOP front-runner Donald Trump Tuesday, saying his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States should disqualify him from being president.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest pulled few punches, telling reporters Trump's presidential campaign "has had a carnival-barker aspect," and criticized congressional leaders and other GOP power brokers for enabling the real estate mogul’s bellicose campaign.
“The question now is about the rest of the Republican party and whether or not they're going to be dragged into the dustbin of history with him,” Earnest said. “And right now, the current trajectory is not very good.”
President Barack Obama’s chief spokesman hit the other GOP presidential hopefuls for taking “an oath pledging to support Donald Trump for president of the United States if he wins the nomination.”
There also was criticism for Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who earlier Tuesday made a rare exception to his rule not to get involved in presidential politics by weighing in on Trump’s proposal.
"This is not conservatism," Ryan said, addressing the remarks without naming Trump. "What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for. Not only are there many Muslims serving in our Armed Forces, dying for this country, there are Muslims serving right here in the House, working every day to uphold and to defend the Constitution."
Still, Earnest criticized the new speaker for opting against condemning Trump’s entire White House bid, and blasted the Republican campaign machine for endorsing the front-runner’s tactics.
“You've got somebody at the Republican Senate Campaign Committee trying to design a strategy that will allow Republican candidates across the country to benefit from Mr. Trump's incendiary and offensive rhetoric,” Earnest said. “And you have the speaker of the House saying that he'd vote for Donald Trump. So that does not indicate that the Republican Party has joined the rest of us in the 21st century.”
Earnest described the White House’s call for the end of Trump’s candidacy after his comments about banning Muslims as the final straw, saying “there has been an accumulation of offensive and incendiary comments from Mr. Trump — this is only the latest.”
So, why now?
“The first thing a president does when he or she takes the oath of office is to swear an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Earnest said. “And the fact is that what Donald Trump said yesterday disqualifies him from serving as president.”
He then turned his sights on Trump’s Republican primary opponents: “For Republican candidates for president to stand by their pledge to support Mr. Trump, that in and of itself is disqualifying.”
The White House’s rebuke came a few hours after Ryan spoke to reporters.
Ryan said the "vast, vast, vast, vast majority" of Muslims are peaceful individuals who believe in freedom, democracy and individual rights and that they have been allies in the fight against radical terrorists. "I told our members this morning to always strive to live up to our highest ideals, to uphold those principles in the Constitution on which we swear every two years we will defend,” the Wisconsin Republican said.
Asked if he was concerned Trump’s comments would cause lasting damage to the Republican Party, Ryan said he was not but he said he was concerned about standing up for the country's principles. "It's incumbent upon leaders of our party like myself to stand up and defend what conservatism is and what the Republican Party stands for," he said.
Ryan's comments came as Democratic leaders trotted out Trump as representative of the GOP.
"Trump is saying out loud what other Republicans merely suggest," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said during remarks on the Senate floor.
"Because it's not just him; many of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination have said the same hateful things, especially about Muslims," the Nevada Democrat said. "Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz proposed a test for refugees. You can't condemn Trump when you want to impose a religious test for women and children fleeing death and persecution. Ben Carson has called Muslims rabid dogs. Chris Christie said they should be tracked."
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra said in a statement that Trump's comments hit a new low.
"This is still America, with a Constitution and Bill of Rights, and these are certainly not the Crusades," the California Democrat said. "We need strong, smart leaders who know how to lead us all, not leave us behind. "