WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Saturday said he was not “morally obligated” to defend President Barack Obama, after a man at one of his campaign events said that the president was a Muslim and “not even an American”.

Trump, who is leading in the polls for the Republican nomination, blasted out a series of tweets amid mounting criticism that he did not cut off an event attendee who questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship and religion. 

If the roles were reversed, Trump predicted Obama would not come to his defence. Trump drew criticism Friday after he failed to shut down the man in New Hampshire who alleged Obama is a Muslim, as well as not an American.

The questioner added that “we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?” Many have said Trump should have followed the lead of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who cut off a woman who made similar comments about Obama during that election. But Trump has a history with the birther movement, fueling questions about Obama’s citizenship during the 2012 election, which eventually spurred Obama to release his birth certificate to end any doubt that he was born in Hawaii in 1961.

The White House said the exchange wasn’t surprising given Trump’s history. Even rival Republican candidate Jeb Bush came to Obama’s defence in a speech Friday night in Michigan. “Barack Obama is a talented man - and by the way he’s an American, he’s a Christian - his problem isn’t the fact that he was born here or what his faith is,” Bush said, according to reports. “His problem is that he’s a progressive liberal who tears down anybody that disagrees with him.”

Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has  called on Trump to clarify what he meant when stating that he was “going to be looking at that” to a question about the Muslim “problem in this country” and “When can we get rid of them?” The question was asked during from an audience member at a campaign event on Thursday night in New Hampshire. Instead of correcting the supporter, as Senator McCain did during his 2008 presidential bid when an audience member called Obama an “Arab,” or rejecting the anti-Muslim assertion, Trump responded: “A lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and a lot of different things.”

Sixty-six percent of Trump’s supporters believe that President Obama is a Muslim and only 29 percent accept that the president was born in the United States according a recent September survey conducted by Public Policy Polling. “In failing to challenge the questioner’s anti-Muslim bigotry and his apparent call for the ethnic cleansing of American Muslims, Donald Trump sent the message that Islamophobia is acceptable,” said CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw. “Mr. Trump needs to follow the example of Senator McCain by rejecting bigotry and by speaking out against the growing Islamophobia in American society.” McCaw said Trump has in the past falsely asserted that America has a “Muslim problem.”