Trump under fire after exchange with a crank

Donald Trump’s traveling circus came to Rochester, New Hampshire today. During the Q&A session, the following exchange occurred:

TRUMP: Let’s start with this group right over here. Come on. This man, I like this guy.

MAN: We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American–

TRUMP: –We need this question [laughter]–

MAN: But anyway, we have training camps brewing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of it?

TRUMP: We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying that, a lot of people are saying bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking into that and plenty of other things.

Trump is under fire for not challenging the preamble to the question — the attack on American Muslims generally and the claims President Obama is a Muslim and not an American. It is said that he “let the comment slide.” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who must be freaking out at the number of Americans watching the Republican debates, tried to tar the GOP through Trump’s exchange with the crackpot.

It is clear to me that Trump tried to laugh off the preamble by interjecting “we need this question.” It would have been better to have rejected outright the man’s claims, especially the attack on Muslims (stupid shots at the president, though distasteful in this case, come with the territory; shots against an entire class of Americans are more in need of correcting).

Still, I don’t think it’s incumbent on presidential candidates to debate kooks. Laughing off the preamble and answering the question was an acceptable, though less than ideal, approach to this guy, in my opinion.

As for the answer, it’s important to note that Trump wasn’t saying he’s looking into doing something about American Muslims generally. Clearly, he was talking about looking into whether there are training camps in this country for anti-American Muslims. Moreover, the “looking into it” response is a standard way of blowing off oddball questions.

I doubt that Trump will suffer damage due to this exchange. If he does, he can blame his show biz style. Trump dealt with the kook’s preamble with shtick (“we need this question”), the way a comedian might deal with a drunk. Had he been in a more serious, less performance-oriented mode, Trump’s approach probably would have left him less vulnerable to claims that he let offensive remarks “slide.”