Painting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as a “carnival barker” with “fake hair” whose campaign belonged in the “dustbin of history,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest challenged Republicans to denounce Trump Tuesday, claiming his “toxic” plan to ban Muslims from entering the country should disqualify him from office.
In the backdrop of Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, the Pentagon also warned against fuelling Islamic State’s narrative of a US war with Islam.
“What Donald Trump said yesterday disqualifies him from serving as president,” said Earnest sharply, describing the 69-year-old’s comments variously as “offensive” and “toxic.”
The unusually strident language from the White House podium reflects concern about the impact of Trump’s comments in the wake of a mass shooting that killed 14 in California that is being blamed on Islamic extremists.
But it also suggests that the White House spies a political opportunity ahead of the 2016 election.
Earnest was quick to pounce on prominent Republicans who condemned Trump’s remarks -- including rival presidential contenders Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush -- saying they would still support him if he were the party nominee.
The “Grand Old Party” has long held fast to president Ronald Reagan’s so-called 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
Earnest dared them to break that rule and challenge Trump, or risk being tarred with the same brush.
“What he said is disqualifying and any Republican who’s too fearful of the Republican base to admit it, has no business serving as president either,” he said.
That poses a dilemma for Republicans who may have little love for Trump: refuse to withdraw support and risk being branded a bigot, or withdraw support with the political risks that entails.
Pentagon issues warning
Asked about Trump’s remarks, Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said Muslims serve in the US armed forces and that America’s war strategy to combat Islamic State hinged on support from Muslim countries.
“Anything that bolsters ISIL’s narrative and pits the United States against the Muslim faith is certainly not only contrary to our values but contrary to our national security,” Cook told a news briefing, using an acronym for Islamic State.
Cook did not mention Trump by name and said he did not want to wade into domestic political matters. The Pentagon is helping local forces battle Islamic State and other extremists in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
US Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson said Trump’s proposal could thwart U.S. efforts to connect with the Muslim community, and Secretary of State John Kerry said his ideas were not constructive.
The Pentagon counts thousands of service members who self-identify as Muslims.
Data released by the Defense Department showed that 3,817 active-duty members and 2,079 members of the National Guard and reserve identified their faith as “Islam.”