Appearing via phone on several Sunday morning news broadcasts, Trump was pressed on his response to an anti-Muslim supporter in New Hampshire. The man told Trump that Obama was not born in America and a problem. “We need this question,” Trump responded.
On Meet The Press, Chuck Todd asked Trump is he’d be comfortable with a Muslim president. Trump allowed that it was possible to have a Muslim president but refused to say whether he’d be OK with it. He then suggested that Obama himself was a Muslim.
CHUCK TODD: Can you imagine supporting or being comfortable if a Muslim ever became president of the United States?
DONALD TRUMP: I can say that, you know, it’s something that at some point could happen. We’ll see. You know, it’s something that could happen. Would I be comfortable? I don’t know if we have to address it right now. But I think it is certainly something that could happen.
TODD: You said you’d have no problem putting a Muslim in the–
TRUMP: I mean, some people have said it already happened, frankly. But of course you wouldn’t agree with that. And I–
TODD: Well, no…
Pressed on whether Obama was a Christian, Trump said that he didn’t “talk about people’s faith.” He then allowed that he was “willing to take [Obama] at his word” regarding his religion.
But asked on ABC’s This Week on whether Obama was a Christian, Trump refused to answer the question. He also, on both broadcasts, refused to say whether Obama was born in the United States.
The back-and-forth was a perfect example of Trump’s strategy. More than perhaps any single individual, Trump is responsible for planting doubts about Obama’s birthplace and his religion. Pressed on the issue by his supporters, he makes sure he sends the signal that he is sympathetic.
But he leaves just enough wiggle room to create (im)plausible deniability. Trump didn’t say that we already had a Muslim president. He said that “some people have said” Obama is a Muslim president. He doesn’t specifically say he agrees with it but snarks that Chuck Todd disagrees, implicitly putting himself on the other side of the issue.
This strategy of appealing to dark corners of the Republican base has fueled his rise in the polls.
Ben Carson, who trails Trump closely in the polls, took a similar tact on Meet The Press, saying that, under the constitution, Muslims should be disqualified from the presidency.