By JOSH LEDERMAN
ERIE, Pa. — It’s the media’s fault. That’s out of context. Never said it in the first place.
Donald Trump’s claim Friday that he was merely being “sarcastic” in accusing President Barack Obama of establishing a terrorist group was his latest attempt to blame others for the uproar over what he says. It’s an instinct that Trump’s opponents say a president can’t possess. Some Republicans seem to have the same concern.
This time, it followed two days of critical headlines and Democratic outrage over Trump’s claim that Obama was the “founder” of the Islamic State group. As Trump repeated the claim more than a dozen times, interviewers sought to ensure Trump wasn’t being misconstrued. Surely, they offered, he meant Obama’s policies had enabled the extremist group’s rise.
“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do,” Trump said, using one acronym for the group. (His remark comes at 15:26 of the interview .)
Then an about-face Friday. “THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?” he tweeted.
Or was he being sarcastic about the sarcasm? Hours later, he told a rally in Pennsylvania he was “obviously being sarcastic — but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.”
That it took Trump two days to walk back his widely debunked remark — and then walk back the walk-back — was worrying for Republicans who see such missteps as playing to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s advantage. Equally worrying for some was the fact that he again would not take responsibility for his words.
Ryan Williams, a Republican strategist who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, said there’s a common-sense playbook for dealing with political slip-ups: “Stop the bleeding and put it behind you by apologizing.
“That’s what normal candidates do,” he went on. “However, normal candidates don’t careen from one self-inflicted wound to another on an hourly basis.”
It was only two days earlier that Trump blamed the media for making much ado about nothing after he suggested during a rally that gun rights enthusiasts might find a way to stop Clinton if elected.
Clinton, whose lead over Trump has widened in recent polls of the most competitive states, has seized on those and other eyebrow-raising comments to portray the reality TV star as lacking the temperament to run the nation — Trump has his own argument for why she’s unfit to do so. She’s hammered him for avoiding accountability for his actions.
To that end, Clinton’s campaign on Friday intensified pressure on Trump to release his tax returns, while disclosing her 2015 filings and a decade of returns from her running mate. The filing shows that the Clintons earned $10.6 million and paid a federal tax rate of 34.2 percent last year.
Trump has refused to make his filings public, saying they’re under audit by the Internal Revenue Service and he’ll release them only once that review is complete. All major U.S. presidential candidates in modern history have released their returns.
Minutes after releasing her returns, Clinton tweeted that it’s possible Trump paid no tax at all.
Trump worked to profit on the fuss over his Islamic State remark. In an email to supporters asking them to donate, Trump accused the “liberal media” of telling “outrageous lies about me.”
It’s no surprise that the media are Trump’s go-to scapegoat. Just 6 percent of Americans said they have a great deal of confidence in the media in a Media Insight Project poll earlier this year.
Almost never does Trump admit error. One exception came this month when he acknowledged a video he said showed a plane carrying U.S. cash to Iran was actually a plane carrying U.S. hostages who were being released.
Most of the time, Trump casts blame elsewhere:
STAR OF DAVID: In July, Trump’s campaign tweeted an anti-Clinton message that seemed to show the Star of David atop a pile of cash, raising questions about anti-Semitism. When Clinton’s campaign cried foul, Trump blamed her for trying to “divert attention from the dishonest behavior of herself and her husband.” Also, the media.
PAGING MOSCOW: Last month Trump caused a stir in a news conference by saying “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails” missing from Clinton. Even some Republicans questioned whether he was encouraging a foreign government to interfere in the election. Trump’s response later? “Of course, I’m being sarcastic.”
CRIMEA RIVER: Heads spun in the foreign policy world when Trump said this month that Russia wouldn’t enter Ukraine, seemingly unaware it already had. When an interviewer pointed out Russia had annexed Crimea, Trump said he meant Russia wouldn’t dare go farther if he were president. He insisted he’d said nothing incorrect.
ABOUT SADDAM: In July, Trump said former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was “so good” at killing terrorists. He also suggested the Mideast would be more stable were Saddam still in power. He took offense that his comments were interpreted as praise for Saddam.