WASHINGTON • In an extraordinary denunciation, United States President Barack Obama has urged leaders of the Republican Party to withdraw their endorsements of billionaire Donald Trump's candidacy, flatly calling him "unfit to serve" as the nation's 45th president.
Speaking in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, the President noted the Republican criticism of Mr Trump for his attacks on the Muslim parents of an American soldier, Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq.
But Mr Obama said the political recriminations from Republicans "ring hollow" if the party's leaders continue to support Mr Trump's campaign. "The question they have to ask themselves is: If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?" he said. "What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer?"
His condemnation of Mr Trump and direct appeal to Republicans to abandon their candidate were a significant and highly personal escalation of presidential rhetoric. Mr Obama seemed eager to go beyond his past interventions in the race.
Mr Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, said it was "a highly unusual and almost unprecedented moment". "It's a reflection of just how radical and dangerous President Obama feels that Trump is," he said.
CRITICISM OVER TRUMP'S REMARKS
The question they have to ask themselves is: If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?
UNITED STATES PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
His excesses make you want to retch, even in the United States, especially when - as was Donald Trump's case - he speaks ill of a soldier, of the memory of a soldier.
FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
Using the formal backdrop of a joint news conference with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Obama suggested that Mr Trump would not abide by "norms and rules and common sense", and questioned whether he would "observe basic decency" should he reach the Oval Office.
The President said he would have been disappointed to lose in the 2008 or 2012 elections but had never doubted whether his Republican rivals in those races could function as president. "That's not the situation here," he added.
He cited Mr Trump's reaction to Capt Khan's parents as a principal reason for his remarks, lamenting what he called an attack on a "family that had made such extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our country".
"There has to come a point at which you say, somebody who makes those kinds of statements doesn't have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding, to occupy the most powerful position in the world," Mr Obama said.
He also said the Republican nominee had repeatedly demonstrated that he was "woefully unprepared to do this job", proving he lacked knowledge about Europe, the Middle East and other parts of Asia.
"This isn't a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily," he added. "There has to be a point at which you say, this is not somebody I can support for president of the United States, even if he purports to be a member of my party."
Foreign leaders too have slammed Mr Trump's comments on the Khan family, with French President Francois Hollande telling journalists in Paris: "His excesses make you want to retch, even in the United States, especially when - as was Donald Trump's case - he speaks ill of a soldier, of the memory of a soldier."
As Mr Obama condemned Mr Trump, the real-estate mogul was speaking at a rally in nearby Ashburn, Virginia. At one point, he was interrupted by a crying baby. "Don't worry about that baby, I love babies," he said at first. A few beats later, he said: "Actually, I was only kidding. You can get that baby out of here."
Drawing laughs and a few gasps, he added: "Don't worry, I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I'm speaking."
Meanwhile, a US judge on Tuesday rejected Mr Trump's pre-trial bid to throw out a lawsuit brought by Trump University students who said they were defrauded by its real estate seminars. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel said in a written ruling that there was a "genuine issue of material fact" as to whether Mr Trump knowingly participated in a scheme to cheat the students, who paid up to US$35,000 (S$47,000) to learn from his "hand-picked" instructors.
Judge Curiel said there was extensive evidence Mr Trump had not personally met, interviewed or selected the Trump University instructors.
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS