SUNRISE (Florida) • Mr Donald Trump has intensified his effort to cast President Barack Obama as the "founder" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), eagerly and repeatedly using the label in a radio interview just hours after he said it at a rally in Florida.
"Last night, you said the President was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace," conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt told the Republican presidential nominee yesterday during a morning interview.
Mr Trump responded: "No, I meant he's the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton."
TAKING AIM AT OBAMA
In many respects, you know they honour President Obama. He's the founder of ISIS. He's the founder of ISIS. He's the founder. He founded ISIS... I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.
MR DONALD TRUMP, speaking to a crowd in Florida.
At a Wednesday night rally in Sunrise, Florida, Mr Trump said Mr Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Clinton botched policy in the Middle East and fuelled the growth of terrorism there.
"He is the founder of ISIS," he told supporters, adding of his Democratic rival: "And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton."
During an extended riff on the crisis in Crimea, Mr Trump added extra emphasis on the President's full name, saying that it occurred "during the administration of Barack Hussein Obama".
Mr Trump's statement marked an escalation in his recent criticism of the Obama administration's handling of the terror threat, as he had previously accused only Mrs Clinton of having a "founding" role in the terror group.
His suggestion that Mr Obama was honoured by ISIS recalled an earlier controversy when Mr Trump seemingly implied that the President had some connection to the terrorist massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June.
"He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands," Mr Trump told Fox News in June. And the use of the President's middle name recalled Mr Trump's questioning of Mr Obama's faith during his crusade several years ago to prove that Mr Obama, who is Christian, was not born in the US.
Mr Trump found himself in an awkward camera-framing immediately after criticising the Clinton campaign for the appearance of Mr Seddique Mir Mateen, the father of the Pulse gunman, at Mrs Clinton's campaign event this week.
"Wasn't it terrible when the father of the animal that killed these wonderful people in Orlando was sitting with a big smile on his face right behind Hillary Clinton?" Mr Trump said.
Yet sitting behind Mr Trump was Mr Mark Foley, a former Republican congressman who resigned after being confronted with sexually explicit messages he sent to underage congressional pages.
Mr Trump seemed unaware of the disgraced former congressman's presence as he tried to cast doubt on the Clinton campaign's account that it had not known who Mr Mateen was. "When you get those seats, you sort of know the campaign," Mr Trump said.
The boisterous Florida rally was a marked change from his rally earlier on Wednesday in Virginia, where a relatively subdued Mr Trump promised he would be the best candidate to save the coal industry.
Mr Trump has suffered what critics insist is a long string of missteps that have marred his campaign since he officially won the nomination last month.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Wednesday found that 19 per cent of Republican voters want him to drop out of the race, while 70 per cent think he should stay and 10 per cent say they don't know. The RealClearPolitics national poll average shows Mrs Clinton leading Mr Trump by 48 per cent to 40 per cent.
Fifty prominent Republican national security experts announced in an open letter this week they would not vote for Mr Trump.
Six party senators and a number of House Republicans have disowned him too.
THE WASHINGTON POST, NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE