Donald Trump Gaining Strength Despite Questionable Comments

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop on Nov. 21, 2015, in Birmingham, Ala. PlayEric Schultz/AP Photo
WATCH Trump's Latest 9/11 Statement Draws Criticism From Fact-Checkers

Donald Trump has come under fire for saying he saw some New Jersey residents celebrating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a claim that has been questioned by various fact-checkers.

But such comments, as well as his repeated campaign pledges to "bomb the s***out of” the Islamic State, seem to be bolstering the GOP front-runner’s strength even more.

Polls released this weekend show Trump is, by far, the most trusted GOP candidate to tackle the threat of terrorism in the United States, and more Republicans see Trump as honest and trustworthy than don’t. But Trump is facing scrutiny over the accuracy of two comments he made this weekend, including the one about Sept. 11, as well as another on race.

“I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down,” he said in a speech Saturday. “Thousands of people were cheering.”

Then Trump doubled-down Sunday on his assertion to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.”

“It was well covered at the time, George,” Trump said. “There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down.”

The Washington Post fact-checker called the claim “outrageous” and gave Trump four “Pinocchios,” its worst rating. Meanwhile, the independent fact-checking website, Politifact, concluded: “Trump’s recollection of events in New Jersey in the hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks flies in the face of all the evidence we could find. We rate this statement Pants on Fire.”

(Several media organizations have been unsuccessful in trying to verify Trump’s assertion.)

But rather than rattle his supporters, the questionable comments seem to embolden them.

Forty-two percent of Republicans say they trust Trump the most to handle the threat of terrorism, according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll Sunday. Jeb Bush comes in second with only 18 percent, less than half of Trump’s support.

But the Sept. 11 claim wasn’t the only controversial one the New York real estate mogul made in recent days. Trump, 69, tweeted Sunday afternoon this image of a masked man holding a gun along with several statistics about homicides by race.

The graphic does not match official statistics from an FBI report in 2014, which shows that 82 percent of whites were killed by other whites. Black Americans were responsible for 15 percent of white slayings.

Nevertheless, Trump comes in second when GOP voters are asked who is most honest and trustworthy, according to the same ABC-Post poll. Twenty-three percent of Republican voters say Trump is most honest and trustworthy behind only Ben Carson, who garners 34 percent, but ahead of Rubio, Bush and Cruz, who have less than half of Trump’s support. Including the Democrats, however, the same ABC-Post poll this weekend shows front-runner Hillary Clinton with an 8-point lead over Trump in trust to handle the threat of terrorism.

But, according to a Fox News poll out Sunday, Trump has a positive-24 percent net honest and trustworthy rating among Republicans.

And his supporters are sticking by his side.

Almost half of Republicans also back Trump as the candidate who could best bring change to Washington, more than doubling Carson, his next closest rival. Trump also leads Republican rivals on other issues like the economy.