U.S. Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham speaks at the the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, Sept 19, 2015. 
Photo by Brian Frank/Reuters

Lindsey Graham takes on GOP rivals in New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire – Republican presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham delivered a blistering take-down of rival GOP candidates Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and John Kasich and said Hillary Clinton’s campaign is “imploding” during a campaign stop here on Wednesday.

The South Carolina senator rebuked Carson’s recent comments that he would “not advocate” for a Muslim to be president. Graham said he has served in Iraq and Afghanistan with Muslims, some of which “paid the ultimate price.”

“Can one of their children one day grow up to be president? Yes, I definitely believe so,” Graham said.

“When you say things like this, I think it means you’re not ready to be commander-in-chief. You don’t understand the world as it is,” he added.

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On “Meet The Press” on Sunday, Carson told NBC’s Chuck Todd that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” setting off a firestorm of responses from fellow presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle who condemned Carson’s suggestion. (Carson later tried to clarify his comments, saying he could support a presidential candidate of any religion “if they embrace our Constitution and are willing to place that above their religious beliefs.”)

Graham also issued a challenge to current GOP front-runner Donald Trump for the business mogul’s refusal to acknowledge that President Obama was born in Hawaii and for his failure to correct a questioner at a town hall last week that incorrectly stated the president is a Muslim.

“It is now time for Mr. Trump to come clean on whether or not he believes President Obama was born in Hawaii, and if he has any doubt, share those doubts with us, because I don’t think you can be elected President of the United States if you hold these kind of views,” Graham said.

“The problem with Mr. Trump in many ways - he’s a political coward. He doesn’t want to take people on who hold these extreme views because he’s afraid of alienating them,” he added.

Graham noted that he disagrees with Obama on both domestic and foreign policy matters, calling him a “very bad president,” but declared “the office deserves respect.”

“I do not doubt President Obama’s Christian faith. I do not doubt that he was born in Hawaii,” he said.

Graham also pointed his criticism to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a fellow Republican presidential candidate who has also spent a good deal of time campaigning in New Hampshire recently and who has reliably placed second or third place in the state in recent polls.

Graham, however, continues to sit closer to the bottom of the polls.

Graham takes issue with Kasich’s statement earlier this month at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine about the Base Realignment and Closure process, when Kasich said, ”I think the concern about base closings and BRAC makes everyone more efficient” and that it “keeps everyone on their toes.”

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“I don’t think John realizes how shaky our defenses are, how bad shape we are militarily, and how hard they work at Portsmouth,” Graham said Wednesday. “I want to tell the people at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and all over the country: to those civilians who are supplying our military with the best equipment possible, that I’m not worried about keeping you on your toes. I want to have your back.”

“All I can tell Gov. Kasich is it’s not the 1990s. We are on track to have the smallest Navy since 1915. The smallest Army since 1940. I’ve never seen more threats to our nation than I do today…. I don’t think John Kasich gets where the world is at. The dangers to this country do not justify gutting the military, and when you suggest that we need to close bases, you really don’t understand how our footprint actually is.”

A spokesperson for Kasich responded: “The senator is deliberately misstating the Governor’s position. He’s saying things that simply aren’t true. Governor Kasich has been clear that we must grow our navy and eliminate the budget gaps caused by sequestration.”

Graham also criticized Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton for the timing of Tuesday’s announcement that she would not support the Keystone XL Pipeline, saying the Democratic candidate is “giving into environmental extremists” and that “her campaign is imploding.”

“I think she did this the day the Pope came to try to hide the fact she won’t build the pipeline. Well, Hillary, you’re not going to be able to hide from the American people,” he said, and added, “It shows that she is feeling the pressure from Bernie Sanders and that she is playing politics with our national security.”

The South Carolina senator also signaled that he has no plans to follow Scott Walker’s advice from Monday evening that other candidates should drop out of the presidential race so they can coalesce around a “positive” alternative to Donald Trump.

“I agree with him,” Graham said. “I think that all of them should drop out except me.”

This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com

Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham takes on GOP rivals in New Hampshire