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Washington — Anyone in America can grow up to be president, as the saying goes — unless you happen to be a Muslim, a leading Republican presidential candidate believes.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said in an interview aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

For GOP leaders, the 2016 campaign offered a chance to boarden its appeal to minorities, gays, women and others beyond the traditional core supporters.

After the 2012 election, a report commissioned by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus concluded that “if our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.” But it hasn’t unfolded according to script.

Front-runner Donald Trump declined to correct a town hall participant who wrongly said President Barack Obama was a Muslim. Days later, Carson spoke about Muslims and the presidency — remarks described as “un-American,” by a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ibrahim Hooper.

“You cannot hold these kinds of views and at the same time say you will represent all Americans, of all faiths and backgrounds,” Hooper said.

2016 hopeful Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, responded to Obama’s nomination of an openly gay man to serve as Army secretary by saying the president “is more interested in appeasing America’s homosexuals than honoring America’s heroes.”

The rhetoric has provided an opening Democrats are ready to exploit.

“Of course a Muslim, or any other American citizen, can run for president, end of story,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who leads the Democratic National Committee. “To think otherwise ... elevates and validates discrimination in this country.”

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