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Lindsey Graham Holds His Ground On Terrorism In Undercard Debate

Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham gestures as he thanks American Muslims for their military service during Tuesday's debate.
Robyn Beck
AFP/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham gestures as he thanks American Muslims for their military service during Tuesday's debate.

Four low-polling presidential candidates — Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham — met Tuesday night in Las Vegas knowing they needed to do something big to stand out.

That didn't quite happen. But Graham, a retired Air Force colonel who said he has now been to Iraq 36 times, found new energy in this debate, which focused almost entirely on fighting terrorism and ISIS. Graham said he would try to make friends throughout the world to fight ISIS and that he's "been working for a decade to figure out how to win this war," he said.

Graham repeatedly rolled his eyes and shook his head as the other candidates discussed their plans to fight ISIS.

He also hit at Donald Trump when asked about the GOP front-runner's plan to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. "Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do — declare war on Islam itself. ISIL would be dancing in the street, they just don't believe in dancing. This is a coup for them. And to all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the king of Jordan and the president of Egypt, I am sorry, he does not represent us," Graham said.

The other candidates also weighed in on Trump's plan. Santorum said that while he didn't completely agree with it, the plan is "nothing against Muslims — his comment was against this administration who doesn't have a policy to properly vet people coming into this country. ... He brings up a legitimate issue."

"Not all Muslims are jihadists, and no one, including, I suspect, Donald Trump, would say that. But the reality is all jihadists are Muslims — that's a reality," Santorum continued. "And we have to stop worrying about offending some people and start worrying about defending all Americans, because we're not right now."

Asked if he would support Trump as the eventual nominee, Graham said he would, but "I may sleep late that day if it's Trump."

The candidates also discussed domestic surveillance of mosques, defeating ISIS ideologically, U.S. policy in Syria, whether women should serve in combat, and Syrian refugees.

Asked whether surveillance at mosques would infringe on the First Amendment rights of Muslim Americans, Huckabee said he didn't think it would because they are "public places."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Amita Kelly is a Washington editor, where she works across beats and platforms to edit election, politics and policy news and features stories.

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