Now Trump says Isil claim was 'sarcasm'
After days of alleging repeatedly that President Barack Obama had literally founded the Isil terror group, Donald Trump has abruptly shifted tone and insisted that his widely debunked claim had merely been sarcastic.
Trump, in an early-morning post on Twitter, blamed CNN for reporting "so seriously" that he had called Obama and Democrat Hillary Clinton the extremist group's founder and most valuable player. He added, in all capital letters: "THEY DON'T GET SARCASM?"
Only hours before, the billionaire businessman had restated the allegation with no mention of sarcasm, telling rally- goers in Kissimmee, Florida: "I've been saying that Barack Obama is the founder."
It is a claim that Trump repeated at least a dozen times in three cities since debuting the attack line on Wednesday during a rally outside Fort Lauderdale.
In fact, Trump had refused to clarify that he was being rhetorical or sarcastic when asked about the remark during interviews. On Tuesday, when conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt tried to steer Trump towards explaining that he really meant Obama's middle-eastern policies had created conditions that Isil exploited, Trump wanted none of it.
"No, I meant he's the founder of Isil. I do," Trump said. Told that Obama was trying to defeat the militants, Trump added: "I don't care. He was the founder."
The controversy has dogged the campaign in a week in which Trump has been trying to highlight his economic proposals. He is encountering worrying signs as his campaign moves towards the November election. Clinton's lead in the polls has widened, while a growing number of his fellow Republicans have declared that they won't support their own party's nominee.
Clinton is looking to take advantage by expanding into traditionally Republican states, seeking a sweeping victory.
It wasn't immediately clear why Trump altered course and said the whole notion was sarcastic. But the allegation had elicited fresh concerns about Trump's relationship with the truth and his suitability to be commander-in-chief.
Yet even as he worked to quell one campaign controversy, Trump appeared to spark another on Wednesday when said he was "fine" with trying Americans suspected of terrorism in military tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.
Asked specifically about US citizens, Trump told the 'Miami Herald' that he didn't like that Obama and others wanted to try them in traditional courts.
"I would say they could be tried there," Trump said, referring to Guantanamo Bay, adding: "That'll be fine."
Federal law generally prohibits US citizens from being prosecuted in military tribunals.
Trump has blamed Obama's decision to pull US forces from Iraq in 2011 for destabilising the Middle East and creating a situation in which Isil could thrive.
He added Clinton to the mix by noting her initial support for the Iraq War and her ties to Obama's policies as his first-term secretary of state.
However, Trump had previously said that he wanted US troops out years before Obama actually withdrew them.
The founder of Isil was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, who was killed in a US airstrike in 2006.
The group began as Iraq's local affiliate of al-Qa'ida, the group that attacked the US on September 11, 2001.
Republican concerns about Trump are compelling enough that dozens of party figures were gathering signatures for a letter, urging the party's chairman to stop helping Trump and focus on protecting vulnerable House and Senate candidates, according to a draft obtained by the Associated Press. Trump said he wasn't worried that Republicans would cut him off and threatened to stop fundraising for the party if they do.
Trump's campaign planned to sit down with RNC officials in Orlando on Friday. But both Republican Party officials and Trump's campaign said the meeting was focused on campaign strategy in battleground states like Florida, and not tensions between the campaign and the party.
The officials weren't authorised to comment publicly and requested anonymity.