Well, you knew it was coming. After the attention-grabbing exchange between GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump and a virulent anti-Muslim supporter at his campaign rally, it was only a matter of time before Trump would give some kind of public statement about the controversy. On Saturday, he laid out his response to his critics in a series of tweets, and it was pretty lacking — Trump says he's not "morally obligated" to defend Obama from birtherism, and that's almost too good to be true.
In case you missed the initial exchange, here's what happened: Trump started off a rally in New Hampshire by inviting some questions from the crowd. The first man he called on immediately launched into what could best be described as a xenophobic, anti-Muslim rant, claiming that "we have a problem in this country, and it's called Muslims." He further claimed that "we know our current president is one," and that "he's not even an American." He further cited Islamic training camps "where they want to kill us," and asked "when can we get rid of 'em?"
Trump didn't seem entirely comfortable throughout, and his response sounded like someone trying to move things along without really dwelling on what was said. But the guy made some incredibly incendiary, racist remarks, and depending on how you interpret the ending line — whether you think he meant "get rid of" Islamist training camps or Muslims altogether — the sentiment was especially hideous.
It also contained a pair of false racist factual claims about the president's religion and nationality, and Trump said nothing whatsoever to contradict them. So, what was his response? He tweeted the following on Saturday, insisting in part that he wasn't going to defend Obama from such attacks because the President wouldn't do the same for him.
But Trump saying that he isn't responsible for speaking up isn't true. If birtherism were some kind of crackpot conspiracy theory that bore no relationship whatsoever to Trump, it might be fair for him to say "you know what? I'm not going to intervene here." Sure, it's a kind of bizarrely hands-off approach to take to an overtly racist comment made at you, and that maybe says something about his campaign, but at least it wouldn't be wildly hypocritical.
But Trump isn't some marginal figure within the years-long attempt to prove that Obama is a foreign-born, secret Muslim president (not, it bears mentioning, that there would be anything wrong with a Muslim president). In fact, Trump is probably the single highest-profile person on Earth to ever embrace that cause. Back in 2011, when he was flirting with a run, he discussed little else but the fallacious rumors that Obama wasn't born in Hawaii like he was, but rather came from somewhere else — Kenya being the most popular claim.
As such, for Trump's double-standard accusation to make any sense, Obama would have to have deliberately refused to denounce an accusation about the real estate magnate that he himself had made in public, multiple times before — with the cameras rolling, no less. If Obama had accused Trump of being a double-agent for the Russian government in an interview on CBS, for example, and then let it slide when an Obama supporter parroted the same line at an event.
In any case, the response was pretty predictable in at least one respect — there was no apology, no hint of remorse, and not even a moment of backtracking. Trump has made it this far by essentially refusing to ever directly apologize for anything, so there's really no reason for him to start now. It does mean, however, that he'll have to stand on this ignoble record.