Trump: I Was Being ‘Sarcastic’ When I Called Obama A Founder Of ISIS

Donald Trump's strange relationship with reality continues to come to light,

Donald Trump Shrug

After two days of doubling down on the absurd comment that President Obama was a “Founder” of ISIS and insisting that he was absolutely serious when he made it, Donald Trump is now claiming that he was being “sarcastic”:

Donald J. Trump tried to quash the latest controversy engulfing his campaign on Friday by claiming that he was not serious when he insisted on multiple occasions this week that President Obama and Hillary Clinton were the “founders” of the Islamic State terrorist group — an allegation that amounts to treason

The clarification raised new questions about the Republican presidential nominee’s ability to communicate clearly to the American public. It also put his surrogates, who have strained to defend him during a tumultuous stretch, in the awkward position of having to explain remarks that he might not mean.

After making the suggestion at a rally on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump doubled down on the assertion on Thursday, insisting in interviews that he really did intend to say that the president and Mrs. Clinton created ISIS. But in an early-morning Twitter post, Mr. Trump said that he was just being sarcastic.

The turnabout was a reversal from just a day ago, when Mr. Trump said in a number of interviews that he was indeed serious about the charge. When the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt tried to help Mr. Trump soften the remark by reminding him that Mr. Obama wants to destroy ISIS, the Republican presidential nominee would not have it.

“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do,” Mr. Trump said. “He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”


Mr. Trump has used the sarcasm defense before. In late July, after he drew widespread criticism by appearing to suggest that the Russians should hack Mrs. Clinton’s emails, he later explained his remarks by saying, “Of course I’m being sarcastic.” The approach allows Mr. Trump to push the limits of political speech and dial it back as needed.
“I think it’s a pattern of him testing certain messages that resonate with his fans, seeing how they play, and then ‘clarifying’ one way or another depending on the reaction,” said Ruth Sherman, a communications expert who has been monitoring the language used by both candidates. “But I also think he’s clever about his statements and knows they are vague enough to be filtered through various lenses.”

Instead of toning things down for a general election audience, Mr. Trump has taken an even more caustic tone in recent days as his poll numbers have continued to tumble. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released on Friday showed Mr. Trump trailing Mrs. Clinton by large margins in North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado and locked in a tight race in Florida.

While Mr. Trump generally tries to avoid apologizing for provocative things that he says, he often accuses his critics of misconstruing his words or misunderstanding his sense of humor. But as he faces heightened scrutiny during the final months of the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump’s jokes have put his loyal allies in the uncomfortable position of having to publicly stand up for him no matter how provocative his remarks.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is one of Mr. Trump’s most prominent surrogates, went to great lengths to defend the candidate in an interview with CNN on Thursday.

“I think what he’s saying there is legitimate, political commentary,” Mr. Giuliani said when questioned about the veracity of Mr. Trump’s assertion about Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton having founded ISIS. “It is true in a sense that before Obama, ISIS was an almost unknown, small little organization, he who called it the jayvee, totally wrong, and here’s why it happened, because he withdrew the truce from Iraq.”

Most mainstream Republicans try to argue that the Obama administration, in which Mrs. Clinton served as secretary of state, allowed ISIS to fester by failing to aggressively manage the situation in the Middle East. Mr. Trump appeared to insinuate that they were actually in cahoots.

Ahead of rallies in Pennsylvania on Friday, Mr. Trump continued to lash out on Twitter at the news media for harping on his every word and for being biased against him. He mocked the “poor, pathetic” television pundits who try to figure him out and said, “They can’t!”.

This is, of course, part of a continuing problem when it comes Donald Trump. It’s almost impossible to tell when he’s being serious and when he’s simply engaging in what the business community refers to as “sales talk” that is designed primarily to boost the reputation of a business or product and often plays fast and loose with things such as truth and reality. For example, after months of taking the position that he had proposed a complete ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, Trump now claims that he really meant a temporary ban on immigration from parts of the world known to have terrorist affiliations and problems with active terror cells even though there is news video of him specifically calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the country for a specifically period of time. On immigration, he has wavered back and forth between calls for the deportation of all immigrants who are in the United State illegally and claiming that he really wouldn’t deport everyone and that most of the people who are here illegally would be allowed to stay as long as they follow some specific steps, a position not unlike the one contained in the immigration bill passed by the Senate in 2013. He’s made comments about his intentions with regard to foreign policy that vacillate between all-out war against ISIS and suggesting that the U.S. essentially withdraw from the Middle East and let the Russians take care of ISIS. And, he’s gone from suggesting that we ought to abandon the NATO alliance to proclaiming that Russia was able to take over Crimea because President Obama didn’t stand up to Vladimir Putin. He has, in other words, the habit of taking completely opposing positions depending on nothing more than his whim and saying outrageous and controversial things and then claiming that the reaction to what he said is the media’s fault because they didn’t understand that he was being sarcastic.

Philip Bump gets it right in his analysis:

It’s a nonsense excuse. Why Trump decided at this late hour that the comment needed excusing isn’t clear. Of all of his various verbal transgressions, this one doesn’t seem significantly more detrimental to his campaign than his past comments. Is it related to this upcoming meeting between his campaign and Republican Party leaders? Was it an attempt to, for some reason, keep the subject in the news for yet another day? Who knows?

Stuart Stevens, who worked on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, makes an excellent point: The only metric on which Clinton and Trump are tied is on how much time each has until polls close. Trump’s comment means that he’s spent another 24 hours of fewer than 90 days until the election litigating a point that doesn’t seem like it will do much to close the gap between him and his Democratic opponent.

We do know why he did it, though. It was very clear in the moment that he hammered the point at that rally because he enjoyed the reaction. Saying Obama created the Islamic State formed a nice little feedback loop of applause.

It wasn’t sarcastic. It also wasn’t satire. It was Trump wanting and getting attention, a process he has mastered. That doesn’t make the statement true or insightful — and it doesn’t seem to have done much to smooth his path to the presidency.

That’s really what a lot of this is about, of course. Donald Trump has been enjoying this run for the Presidency immensely not merely because, at least until now, he has been winning and that he spent the winter and spring vanquishing sixteen Republicans notwithstanding the fact that nobody thought he could it. He’s also enjoying it because it gives him an opportunity to spout off in speeches and say ridiculous things that get hugely positive receptions from the adoring crowd that comes to hear him speak. It’s all about stroking his ego, and as long as it continues he’ll continue acting this way. The problem is that Trump is now engaged in more than just an ego trip. He is the nominee of the Republican Party for President of the United States, and there is at least some chance that he could become President himself. In that position, there’s very little room for the kind of vacillation and sarcasm that marks Trump’s rhetoric today. On the international stage, for example, misspoken words can lead to diplomatic consequences that can create huge problems between nations. Additionally, it’s usually quite important that allies and opposing nations understand what an  American President is saying quite clearly lest a misinterpretation lead to problems down the road. Trump has displayed no evidence that he possesses either the discipline or the diplomatic skills necessary to accomplish this task, and more importantly the kind of rhetoric he often engages in poses the danger of creating problems around the world.

Perhaps Trump really was being ‘sarcastic’ in his initial comments, but not only didn’t it appear that he was but he specifically denied that this was so on at least two occasions over the past two days. Now that the negative backlash to those comments is clear, Trump is engaging in what might be called the Emily Litella defense. The only problem is there is no “Never Mind” when you’re President.

Update: Now Trump says that maybe he wasn’t being sarcastic:

You can’t make this stuff up folks.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Middle East, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    I think the tax guys could have nipped at least some of Trump’s fluffing in the bud had they said “ok, you say your property is worth $7 million. That’s what we’ll use as a basis for calculating your real estate taxes. ”

    No one seems to have ever slammed Trump up against the wall and really really clobbered him on his BSing. Too bad. It’s a filthy habit to get into.

  2. Mu says:

    I can’t wait for him to switch to the “I was drunk” defense, followed by the ‘I’m an idiot” excuse.

  3. CSK says:


    “Here, hold my beer while I launch these nuclear missiles.”

  4. Moosebreath says:

    I suspect at least part of why he went this route is that at least some of the press is actually calling BS on this claim, to the extent that I saw a CNN screen crawl which said in so many words “Trump says Obama ‘Founder’ of ISIS (He’s Not)”.

  5. Mu says:

    “Mr. President, why did we bomb Vienna?”
    “I can’t stand those stupid kangaroos anymore”

  6. J-Dub says:

    sarcasm: the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny

    So, how was he being sarcastic? I believe Mr. Trump may not understand the above meaning of the word. He was being figurative maybe, but not sarcastic. He should be more careful in accusing CNN of not understanding sarcasm when he clearly does not understand it himself.

  7. al-Alameda says:


    “Mr. President, why did we bomb Vienna?”
    “I can’t stand those stupid kangaroos anymore”

    LOL … reminds me of Randy Newman’s ‘Political Science’
    … won’t bomb Australia
    don’t want to hurt no kangaroos
    we’ll build an all American amusement park there
    they got surfin’ too ……

  8. Mikey says:

    Former U. S. Ambassador to Russia tweeted this:

    BTW, Trumps line that Obama founded ISIS echoes exactly a myth propagated by Russian state-controlled media and bloggers.

    Trump parroting Russian state-controlled media. A coincidence, I’m sure…bahahahahahaha…

  9. Slugger says:

    I have thought of a hundred wise-ass remarks to make in response, but I am going to keep them to myself. This man is vying to become the most powerful man on Earth. It just isn’t funny.

  10. J-Dub says:

    @Mikey: Many Russians are saying…

  11. Joe says:

    Trump is engaging in what might be called the Emily Litella defense. The only problem is there is no “Never Mind” when you’re President.

    Wrong SNL reference, Doug. More along the lines of Jon Lovitz: “sarcasm? sarcasm. Yeeeah, that’s the ticket. Sarcasm!”

  12. Kylopod says:

    @J-Dub: Exactly. Sarcasm is usually when you say something ostensibly positive as a backhanded insult. Like if I said “Trump will keep America safe by scaring terrorists away with the hepatitic badger he wears on his head”–that’s sarcasm. Now, it’s plausible that his statement could be hyperbole, but that isn’t the same thing, and it really isn’t much of a defense anyway. If he called Obama the anti-Christ, the fact that he doesn’t mean it literally doesn’t change the fact that it’s still monstrously offensive and out of line.

    Like that time David Horowitz defended Ann Coulter on the grounds that she was engaging in “satire,” it seems that some people on the right are weirdly fuzzy on the categories of humor, and they seem to think claiming a statement wasn’t intended to be taken 100% literally automatically absolves the person of any responsibility for it.

  13. JohnMcC says:

    A quote from an anonymous Clinton staffer in the ‘Conservative Pundit Tracker’ at Slate:

    “He can set himself on fire at breakfast, kill a nun at lunch and waterboard a puppy in the afternoon. And that doesn’t even get us to primetime.”

  14. humanoid.panda says:

    What really gets me is the way he just crapped on the head of Hugh Hewitt, pretty much the only semi-respectable conservative “intellectual” that went to the bat for him. Just a total and utter sociopath.

  15. Facebones says:

    @humanoid.panda: Right? Hugh gave him every opportunity to walk it back and he still just bulled on ahead.

    “Now, of course, you meant that Obama’s careless Mideast policies created a vacuum that ISIS rushed to fill…”

    “Nope! Obama founded it and filed incorporation papers in Kenya! Sad!”

  16. C. Clavin says:

    Jeesus what a pu$$y.
    Friggin’ stand up for what you say, or sit down.
    Truth teller, my arse.

  17. DrDaveT says:

    Quoting Steve Dallas, of the late Bloom County comic:

    I didn’t do it. I wasn’t there. And besides, I was insane.

  18. anjin-san says:

    “Mr. President, the market dropped 9% today after your press conference. People got hurt…”

    “I was just being sarcastic… Can’t people take a joke?”

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @anjin-san: Yes, just wait until he makes some comment about having decided that yes indeed, America is going to default on its debt.

    This idiot would set off another 1929 and then claim that he was only joking.

  20. Scott says:

    @DrDaveT: I don’t know if you know it but Berkeley Breathed has been publishing new Bloom County strips on Facebook.

  21. C. Clavin says:

    @grumpy realist:
    This a$$-hat would be in office for ten minutes before he started an international incident.
    But it explains why he notoriously stiffs everyone that does any kind of work for him.

    Yeah – sure I agreed to that – but I was just joking…

  22. John says:


    Even less funny when the same idiot is parroting the propaganda of a geopolitical foe of the United States, while running a campaign for the Presidency. Same power that hacked into DNC servers, same power trying to exacerbate the migrant situation in Europe so that the far-right can win more elections… you don’t need to be some wide-eyed Russophobe to find this disturbing.

    As a general note, I have little good to say about Obama’s ME policies in general and his Syrian policy in particular,. Hillary Clinton isn’t very likely to be much better. But he has about as much to do with the founding of ISIS as JFK did with the Viet Cong or Ronald Reagan did with Hezbollah. Trump’s basically now the equivalent of a right-wing radio talk show host running for POTUS, at best.

    I’m really, really ashamed of the fact that last year, I believed that for all his outlandish crudities, xenophobia and “unfit to control nuclear weapons” status, he might have been a closet cynic who would inadvertently force the GOP to confront its pseudo-religious economic dogma and kneejerk neocon foreign policy. Sarcasm my ass.

  23. John says:

    @grumpy realist:

    That might not be long in the wings. He’s even decided to join GOP orthodoxy on economic policies. The one thing that might have given him a chance to win the election, he’s run in the opposite direction of what he needs to do.

    I mean, damn. Even after a fresh series of leaks showing in brutal detail how the Obama Administration has cooked intelligence about Syria, even on the same day as a story about a new FBI probe on Hillary’s shady foreign donors and connections in the State Department, Trump STILL manages to burnish his “greater evil” status.

  24. Thor thormussen says:

    you just managed to burnish your idiot status.

  25. DrDaveT says:


    Trump STILL manages to burnish his “greater evil” status.

    Best bumper sticker of the campaign: Why vote for a lesser evil?
    (It’s best when paired with “Cthulhu 2016: No lives matter”…)

  26. grumpy realist says:

    Except that now Trump is backing off his back-off: “well….maybe I was serious after all.”

    Anything to keep the cameras on you, you roguish boy! (pinches Trump’s cheeks)

  27. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT: I have this yard sign.

  28. J-Dub says:

    @grumpy realist: Now you have to wash that Cheetoh powder off your hands.

  29. Hal_10000 says:

    I don’t think the Trumpistas realize that when they continually say things like:

    “What he meant was …”
    “What he was saying was …”
    “It was sarcasm.”
    “it was hyperbole.”
    “In context, it meant …”

    They are making the case that Trump is a damned fool who can’t string two sentences together without stumbling over himself. I used to hear this excuse all the time with Bush: “well, he’s just not a good public speaker” (which was not true). But part of the job of the President is to communicate. To persuade, to argue, to rally, to inspire, to defy. The world has no use for a President whose every speech has to be followed by army of people trying to explain what he really meant.

  30. grumpy realist says:

    @Hal_10000: And as said, then you get into a) duelling interpretations b) deliberate misuse by others of ambiguities c) running around trying to figure out what your candidate actually said.

  31. Thor thormussen says:

    @grumpy realist: I used to do taxes. Trust me, it’s not that simple.

  32. Andrew says:

    The Trumpeter Fire Parade Participants seems to have all the evidence they need to throw Hilary in jail, or to show Obama is an evil terrorist mastermind that created ISIS.
    First it was sarcasm, now it’s not. It’s just a joke everyone else other than Trump and Co. are missing. Obviously they are just too smart for the majority of the world. Or maybe it is that other s word…

    If we are going by Trump and Co. rules, hearsay evidence is king, and actual evidence is fake or skewed.

    I heard that Trumpster Fire lovers are giant suckers. And by Trumpster rules I am in fact: Correct. Period.

    I’m just playing. That was sarcasm!!
    Wait. No it is not.
    Wait, okay, sarcasm.

    Nah, Giant Suckers. Yep.

  33. Gustopher says:

    He’s getting boring.

  34. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Kinda like watching Don Rickles reruns … over and over, day after day.