Donald Trump continued to defend his failure to correct a town hall audience member who said President Obama is a Muslim, arguing in an interview with CBS that it's not clear whether the man who asked the question was a "bigot." In an interview for "60 Minutes" set to air in full on Sunday, CBS News' Scott Pelley asked Trump what his decision not to call out a supporter who said that Muslims are a "problem in this country" says about the real estate mogul. "Well, he said much more than that. That was part of the statement. He then went onto say other things," Trump responded.
What seemed like a one-day story has unexpectedly turned into a week-long controversy.
When CBS's Pelley described the man who asked the question as a "bigot," Trump balked.
"You don't know that," the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination said. "I mean, he asked a question. You don't know that he was a bigot."
Hmm. “We’ve got a problem in this country called Muslims,” the man said. “You know our president is one. He’s not even American.” Instead of cutting the man off, Trump allowed the voter to add, “But anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question: when can we get rid of them?”
I suppose we could have an extended conversation, parsing the nuances of the word "bigot," but I rather doubt Trump would like where the discussion ended up.
In the same CBS interview, which has not yet aired, Trump went on to say, "I love the Muslims. I have many, many friends -- people living in this building, Muslims. They're phenomenal people. But like everything else you have people where there are problems."
Dear politicians everywhere: "Some of my best friends are _____" is one of those loaded phrases that always makes the speaker sound ridiculous.
Stepping back, there are apparently some questions about the identity of the man who asked the bigoted question. I can appreciate a mystery as much as the next blogger, but I'm not entirely sure how much it matters.
For the sake of conversation, let's say conservative pundits like Hugh Hewitt are correct and the man who asked the ridiculous question was "a plant" who intended to make Trump appear foolish. I'm skeptical of the argument, but just for kicks, let's assume that's true.
Even in this scenario, it was still Trump who took the questioner seriously. It was the GOP presidential candidate who made it seem as if the question had merit. It was Trump who said, for all the world to see, “We’re going to be looking into that,” as if the questioner's fears deserve a governmental response.
I can't say with 100% certainty what the voter's motivations were, but what matters in this story is how the presidential candidate handled the situation and responded to the question.
Postscript: Incidentally, why would right-wing activists believe there are secret Muslim "training camps" in the United States? Because far-right media has told conservatives that the imaginary "camps" exist.