While speaking to a group of conservatives in Manhattan on Wednesday night, onetime presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani questioned President Barack Obama's love for America.
“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” the former mayor of New York City said, according to Politico. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
The inflammatory remarks were said at a private dinner for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely 2016 candidate, and even directed at him, in part.
“[W]ith all our flaws we’re the most exceptional country in the world. I’m looking for a presidential candidate who can express that, do that and carry it out,” he said. “And if it’s you Scott, I’ll endorse you … and if it’s somebody else, I’ll support somebody else.”
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Walker declined to weigh into the controversy on Thursday morning, telling CNBC that “the mayor can speak for himself. I’m not going to comment on what the president thinks or not, he can speak for himself as well. I can tell you I love this country.”
Democrats condemned the remark.
"It was a horrible thing to say," White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said simply.
"I rarely agreed with President Bush, but I never questioned his love for our country. I don’t often agree with my Republican colleagues on the Hill, but I know they love America," Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. “And here’s the kicker -- Giuliani made those remarks at a small event attended by Scott Walker. One of the GOP front-runners was sitting just feet away, and didn’t say a word."
"It's pitiful," declared the current mayor of New York Bill de Blasio. "I think it's unfair for anyone to question our president's patriotism. The president has served with great distinction."
Giuliani backtracked slightly, saying he still believed the president was a patriot, only that he doesn't love the country the way previous presidents had.
"What I'm saying is that, in his rhetoric, I very rarely hear him say the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things I used to hear Bill Clinton say, about how much he loves America. I do hear him criticize America much more often than other American presidents," he said.
But not everyone backed away from the remarks. A spokesman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal -- a likely 2016 candidate -- pushed out his support for the former mayor over email.
"Perhaps he should have chosen different phraseology for his remarks. The level of the President’s love for our country is immaterial at this juncture. What President Obama has obviously demonstrated for everyone is that he is incapable of successfully executing his duties as our Commander in Chief," he said. "The gist of what Mayor Giuliani said – that the President has shown himself to be completely unable to speak the truth about the nature of the threats from these ISIS terrorists – is true."
Giuliani and Jindal aren't the first to question Obama's love of country; in 2011, Gov. Rick Perry told a reporter to go ask the president if he loved the country, suggesting he didn't believe he did.
“I think you want a president who is passionate about America -- that’s in love with America,” Perry said while in Iowa. Asked if he was suggesting Obama did not, Perry responded only “You need to ask him ... go ask him."