Many conservatives blame President Barack Obama for the rise of the Islamic State but Donald Trump went a step further, calling him the “founder” of the group.
The Republican nominee, who was addressing supporters at a rally in Florida on Wednesday, also called Hillary Clinton the “co-founder” of the group, as Obama’s secretary of state during 2009-12.
And during an extended rant on the Russian takeover of Crimea, at the same rally, Trump went on to refer to the president by his full name, “Barack Hussein Obama”.
He has done that before, and for a long time, to question Obama’s faith as part of his larger argument that he was not born in the US and was thus not qualified to be president.
“In many respects, you know, they honor President Obama,” he said. “He’s the founder of ISIS (another name for IS). He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS.”
A day after making remarks that were widely seen as calling for violence against his Democratic rival, he added, “I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”
Trump has denied he was inciting violence, but he doubled down on his “founder” and “co-founder” remarks, and explained himself in a TV interview on Thursday morning.
“He was the founder of ISIS, absolutely,” he said. “The way he removed our troops – you shouldn’t have gone in. I was against the war in Iraq. Totally against it.”
Republicans – such as Senator John McCain – have long accused Obama of exiting Iraq in a hurry, to deliver on an election promise, leaving the country vulnerable.
Critics have also attacked Obama, this time joined by many across the ideological divide, for not intervening in Syria adequately enough to stem its descent into chaos.
Obama may have even under-estimated the IS, famously calling it once the “JV-team” – a junior varsity team – of the big-league al Qaeda, while it turned out worse.
But Obama, who is vacationing, is unlikely to let Trump’s attack go unanswered. He has called the nominee “unfit” for the Oval Office before, and may have something to add.
Clinton’s campaign responded by calling Trump “a presidential candidate with an aversion to the truth” and said he was “echoing the talking points of Putin and our adversaries”.
Trump’s remarks are being seen as an escalation in attacks on Clinton, whom he is trailing badly not only in countrywide polls but in crucial swing states that will determine the race.
The Republican nominee is trying to put behind himself a particularly tough few days when he took on, and lost to, the grieving parents of a fallen Muslim American soldier, the Khans.
And he annoyed his party leaders, who are already unhappy with his unpredictable campaign, by announcing he was not going to endorse Speaker Paul Ryan, and others.