WASHINGTON • Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has said it was not his job to stand up for United States President Barack Obama after a man at one of his campaign events said the President was a Muslim and "not even an American".
"Am I morally obligated to defend the President every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don't think so!" Mr Trump said on Twitter on Saturday.
He drew criticism on Friday from Republican and Democratic rivals in the 2016 race for the presidency when he failed to challenge a man at a New Hampshire town hall Thursday night who said Muslims were a problem in the US.
"We know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American," the unnamed man said.
Mr Trump, the billionaire television personality who leads the pack of Republicans seeking the presidential nomination, has cast doubt on whether Mr Obama was born in the US and therefore qualified to stand as president.
"If someone made a nasty or controversial statement about me to the President, do you really think he would come to my rescue? No chance!" Mr Trump tweeted.
Am I morally obligated to defend the President every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don't think so!
MR DONALD TRUMP, in a tweet on Saturday defending his failure to correct a man who, at one of his campaign events, said President Barack Obama was "not even an American"
Mr Obama is a Christian who as president has attended church occasionally.
Later on Saturday, Mr Trump read out the tweets to audience applause at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines.
However, he struck a different tone at another Iowa event during a speech to students and supporters at a high school.
Asked whether he would consider appointing a Muslim American in his Cabinet, Mr Trump said he would have "absolutely no problem with it".
Mr Trump rattled the Republican establishment with a summer surge to the top of the polls, overshadowing expected favourite Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two US presidents. But an unremarkable showing at Wednesday night's Republican debate, where the frontrunner drew attacks from his many rivals, had led some observers to wonder if the Trump frenzy is finally on the wane.
Mr Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric, described as divisive even by members of his own party, has tapped into a vein of anger among like-minded supporters.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the comments were no surprise because "the people who hold these views are part of Mr Trump's base".
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE