White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest broadly tarred Republicans Friday, after Donald Trump failed to correct an audience member at a rally Thursday who asserted that President Barack Obama is a Muslim.
Earnest said he has no idea why people believe Obama is a Muslim, but said there have been many Republican leaders, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who have cynically countenanced similar views by their supporters for political gain. "Is anybody really surprised that this happened at a Donald Trump rally?" Earnest asked. "I don't think anybody who's been paying attention to Republican politics is at all surprised.
"The reason for that is that the people who hold these offensive views are — these offensive views are part of Mr. Trump's base, and Mr. Trump himself would be the first to tell you that he's got the biggest base of any Republican politician these days.
White House Tars GOP After Trump’s ‘Muslim’ Moment
"Now, it is too bad that he wasn't able to summon the same kind of patriotism that we saw from Sen. [John] McCain, who responded much more effectively — and directly — when one of his supporters at one of his campaign events about seven years ago raised the same kind of false claims.
"Now, what's also unfortunate is that Mr. Trump isn't the first Republican politician to countenance these kinds of views in order to win votes. In fact, that's precisely what every Republican presidential candidate is doing when they decline to denounce Mr. Trump's cynical strategy, because they're looking for those same votes."
Several of Trump's rivals have since denounced his failure to correct the audience member, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
But Earnest said the issue goes well beyond Trump and one incident.
"There were other Republicans who successfully used this strategy as well. You'll recall that one Republican congressman told the reporter that he was 'David Duke without the baggage,'" in a reference to Scalise . "That congressman was elected by a majority of his colleagues in the House of Representatives to the third-highest ranking position in the House.
"Those same members of Congress blocked immigration reform. Those same members of Congress oppose reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. Those same members of Congress couldn't support a simple funding bill, because they're eager to defend the Confederate flag.
"So, those are the priorities of today's Republican Party, and they'll continue to be until someone in the Republican Party decides to summon the courage to stand up and change it."
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