Donald TrumpDonald TrumpState Dept. halts plan for back-channel US-North Korea talks: report If Democrats want to take back the White House start now White House rejects DHS research on travel ban: report MORE canceled his appearance Friday evening at a major campaign stop for the GOP presidential field in South Carolina as he faces criticism from both Republican and Democratic candidates over his failure to address claims that President Obama is a Muslim and "not even an American."
“Mr. Trump has a significant business transaction that was expected to close Thursday,” the campaign said. “Due to the delay he is unable to attend today’s Heritage Action Presidential Forum. He sends his regrets and looks forward to being with the great people of South Carolina on Wednesday in Columbia."
He will miss the event amid outcry from both parties that he did not correct comments made by two men at a Thursday night rally.
During that event, on unidentified man said, “We have a problem in this country — it’s called Muslims," adding, "We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American,” the man added. “That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”
Trump responded, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying bad things are happening, [and] we’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
A second Trump supporter endorsed the first man’s claims during his own moment in the question-and-answer session.
“I applaud the gentlemen who stood and said that Obama is a Muslim born abroad,” he said.
“Right,” Trump replied before moving on to the next questioner.
Obama has publicly said he is a Christian and has provided a birth certificate documenting that he was born in Hawaii in 1961.
Trump repeatedly questioned the president’s background before Obama made that move in 2011.
Thursday’s incident drew criticism from the 2016 presidential field that Trump should have corrected his supporter’s claims.
“At the end of the day, this is a defining moment for Mr. Trump,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an interview. “The man in the audience who asked that question needs to be put in his place.”
Graham added that he would not have tolerated similar behavior and that Trump should apologize for not objecting to the men and their accusations.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, also slammed Trump on Friday for not defending Obama’s background.
“I think that’s a disgrace, to again question whether or not the president of the United States was born in this country and whether he’s a Christian,” he said on “CBS This Morning.”
“I thought we were beyond that," he added. "It is an outrage."
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) mocked Trump’s decision not to attend the Heritage Action forum on Friday afternoon but did not mention the incident the night before.
“Sorry to @realDonaldTrump cancel on event today w/ Sen. DeMint & Gov. Haley,” he tweeted, referring to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who is hosting Friday’s event alongside former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham.
“Filing for bankruptcy again?” the GOP presidential candidate asked of Trump. “Perhaps 5th time is the charm…”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) rejected similar claims about Obama’s heritage during the 2008 presidential election.
“I have to tell you, Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States,” he said during a town hall meeting in Minnesota that October.
“He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about,” McCain added. “He’s not [an Arab].”
The Heritage Action for America super-PAC is now hosting 10 of 16 major candidates at the forum.
Trump’s decision not to attend is significant. The event is a big landing point for Southern conservatives three days after the 2016 Republican presidential pack met in a heated debate airing from Simi Valley, Calif., on CNN.
The front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has repeatedly defended himself against charges he is not a true conservative during campaign stops earlier this summer.
Trump leads the race, with 30.5 percent, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.