Republican candidates and operatives spent the NBC News-YouTube Democratic debate Sunday trolling the candidates – and one candidate in particular – with press releases, tweets and stunts.
With front-runner Hillary Clinton facing a renewed challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Republican National Committee did its best to drag her down further, leaving little doubt which candidate they preferred to face off against in November.
At the debate site in Charleston, South Carolina, officials handed out copies of “13 Hours,” the book on the 2012 Benghazi attack that inspired the current movie by action director Michael Bay.
The RNC also sent out a number of “fact check” emails throughout the debate, all of them targeting Clinton. In a surprise twist, they even sent an e-mail defending Sanders’ single-payer health care plan from accusations by Clinton that it would undo existing programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. In another case that played against the party’s usual ideological angle, they sent an email highlighting Clinton’s pro-gun rhetoric from her 2008 campaign after she attacked Sanders from the left on the issue. After the debate, the RNC put out a press release declaring Sanders the “blowout” winner.
Among conservative debate watchers, the standout debate moment came early when the candidates were asked to name their top-three priorities for their first 100 days in office. None of them named any goals for national security, which prompted Republicans to accuse them of ignoring threats like ISIS.
“The Dem candidates give their top 3 priorities & none include [national] security? Seriously? That’s the most IMPORTANT responsibility,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tweeted.
Even before the first question was asked at the debate, Republican presidential candidates took to Twitter and Facebook to pile on all three candidates under the spotlight.
“RETWEET if you agree: We can’t afford 4 more years of @HillaryClinton’s failed liberal agenda. #DemDebate,” Jeb Bush tweeted along with a video attacking the Democratic front-runner.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who lost his spot on the main stage at the last Republican debate, began live-tweeting the NBC News-YouTube debate before it even went into motion, hitting Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, like Bush, stuck to Clinton in his attacks, tweeting: “2016 is critical. If we elect Hillary Clinton, the next four years will be worse than the last eight,” and linking out to a page to donate to his campaign.
Carly Fiorina wrote on her Facebook page that the debate was a “perfect example of a political class that is committed to growing our bloated, corrupt, inept government even further,” calling out Hillary Clinton in particular.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who is never shy on his Twitter feed that reaches over 5 million followers, was silent during the entirety of the debate.