Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump canceled out of a party event Friday in South Carolina amid the outcry over his failure to correct a supporter who called President Barack Obama a Muslim and a foreigner.
“Mr. Trump has a significant business transaction that was expected to close Thursday. Due to the delay, he is unable to attend today’s Heritage Action Presidential Forum,” Trump’s campaign announced in a release. “He sends his regrets.”
Trump had been scheduled to join 10 other Republican candidates at the meeting. His last-minute cancellation risked offending the Republican establishment in the key Southern state and beyond.
The Heritage Foundation is an influential conservative group, and the forum was headed by former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
Trump’s opponents jeered, as in this tweet from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: “Sorry to see @realDonaldTrump cancel on event today ... Filing for bankruptcy again? Perhaps 5th time is the charm ...”
Controversy has dogged Trump since late Thursday at a campaign rally in Rochester, New Hampshire.
"We have a problem in this country: It's called Muslims," said a man in the crowd who was wearing a Trump T-shirt. "We know our current president is one. You know he's not even American."
"We need this question," replied a smiling Trump, who at one time was one of the highest-profile supporters of the so-called birther movement, which alleges, incorrectly, that Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore not an American citizen.
The Trump supporter continued: "We have training camps growing where they [Muslims] want to kill us. That's my question. When can we get rid of them?"
"We're going to be looking at a lot of different things," said Trump. "You know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there."
Not only did Trump not object to the man's false characterization of Obama, he also failed to address what was interpreted by some as a call for the eradication of Muslims from the U.S.
The incident drew condemnation from both Republicans and Democrats.
"If somebody at one of my town hall meetings said that, I would correct them and I would say, 'The president's a Christian and he was born in this country. Those two things are self-evident,' " New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, also a Republican presidential candidate, told NBC on Friday. "And I think you have an obligation as a leader to do that."
"Is anybody really surprised that this happened at a Donald Trump rally?” asked White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “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 part of Mr. Trump's base.”
Clinton, Sanders respond
Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic challenger for the White House, blasted Trump in a statement on Twitter.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, called on Trump to apologize.
Trump campaign officials later told several media outlets the candidate did not hear the man's statement about Obama being a Muslim, and that Trump's answer was in response to the part about the extremist training camps.
It was the outspoken billionaire real estate mogul's latest misstep involving minorities. He has also slammed Mexican immigrants as criminals, rapists and drug dealers.
Obama is a Christian who was born in Hawaii to an American mother and Kenyan father. Nonetheless, he has faced persistent skepticism from many on the right that he is a Muslim and was born in Kenya.
At a political rally during the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican hopeful John McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, was forced to correct a supporter who said she could not trust Obama because "he's an Arab."
In that incident, McCain quickly pulled the microphone away from the woman.
"No, ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man, a citizen who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues," McCain said.