For Republicans watching the Democratic debate, the highlights could be condensed into two words: Radical Islam.
Early in the debate, Hillary Clinton was asked about a longtime GOP complaint that President Obama’s refusal to describe America’s war abroad as a battle against “radical Islam” is a sign of weakness. While Clinton, a former secretary of state, described the enemy as “jihadists” and “Islamists,” she said the term “radical Islam” was “painting with too broad a brush” and would hand America’s enemies a propaganda victory by framing Western actions as a religious war against Muslims.
That wasn’t enough for GOP candidates and conservative commentators, who instantly piled on through social media.
“Yes, we are at war with radical Islamic terrorism,” Jeb Bush tweeted.
Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, also eschewed portraying the war in religious terms. In fact, Clinton praised him in her answer.
Donald Trump got in on the act as well. “Why won’t President Obama use the term Islamic Terrorism? Isn’t it now, after all of this time and so much death, about time!” he tweeted during the debate.
“You’re all grown up now. You can do it. Three words. Ten syllables. Say it with me: ‘Radical Islamic terrorism,’” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tweeted.
It wasn’t the only moment that stood out on the right, but it brought by far the strongest response from Republican candidates and their campaigns.
Another answer that could make it’s way into Republican attacks was Clinton’s response to a question — and later a follow up — regarding why so many Wall Street donors have been comfortable supporting her campaigns throughout her career. Clinton suggested that the answer had less to do with banking policy and more with her time as a senator from New York in the aftermath of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, where she helped lead efforts to rescue finance-heavy Lower Manhattan.
“We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is,” Clinton said. “I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild.”
RNC chairman Reince Priebus condemned the comments on Twitter. “[Hillary Clinton] you reached a new low tonight by using 9/11 to defend your campaign donations,” he said.
The other candidates, by comparison, drew significantly less attention on the right.
Some conservative commentators snickered at Sanders’ suggestion that climate change was related to terrorism. A 2014 academic study offered a possible connection by tying the Syria conflict to a record drought in the region.
Gov. Martin O’Malley called Trump an “immigrant bashing carnival barker,” which drew a direct response from Trump himself.
“Hillary and Sanders are not doing well, but what is the failed former Mayor of Baltimore doing on that stage?” Trump tweeted. “O’Malley is a clown.”
The brutal attacks in Paris set the tone for the event, which began with a moment of silence for the victims. In the hours leading up to the debate, a number of Republican candidates criticized the White House over its positions on Syrian refugees, the war against ISIS, and even gun laws, with some invoking Clinton by name as well.
“President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America, it is nothing less than lunacy,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said on Fox News before the debate.
Of course, Democrats have found plenty they like in the GOP’s crowded debates as well. You can expect to see clips from both sides come back in the general election in attack ads.