Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton gave her response to Tuesday Night’s GOP date before it even began.
Her campaign said almost nothing during the debate, but in a speech on ISIS and foreign policy in Minnesota just hours before the candidates took the stage in Las Vegas, Clinton sought to portray herself as the only grownup in the race capable of being commander-in-chief.
The former secretary of state laid out what her campaign later touted as “serious” and “sophisticated” policy proposals, while suggesting that her potential Republican rivals have nothing more to offer on national security than schoolyard taunts and chicken-hawk chest thumping. “Shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy,” she said. “Bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming commander-in-chief.”
It was the third speech on ISIS Clinton had given in a month, underscoring how important her campaign believes the issue to be. Clinton has sought to portray herself as resolute while Republicans are fearful in the face of terrorism, and she has drawn on her experience.
On Tuesday, she specifically pre-empted talking points she expected to hear from individual candidates. On Sen. Ted Cruz’s call to carpet bomb ISIS, she said, “Promising to carpet bomb until the desert glows doesn’t make you sound strong – it makes you sound like you’re in over your head.”
On Sen. Marco Rubio’s view that the struggle between the West and ISIS is a clash of civilizations, she said, “this is not a clash of civilizations -- It’s a clash between civilization and barbarism.”
At times during the debate, Republicans aided Clinton’s work.
Donald Trump seemed flummoxed by a question on the “nuclear triad” – strategic bombers, nuclear missiles and submarines – leading many observers to believe the billionaire had never heard the term before.
The pro-Clinton super PAC Correct the Record, which coordinates directly with the official Clinton campaign, pointed out one flaw with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to work closer with King Hussein of Jordan – the king has been dead for 16 years.
But it was Trump who drew special attention. He was the only candidate Clinton mentioned by name in her speech, and pro-Clinton forces worked hard to remind reporters that all the candidates on stage have said they would support the Trump campaign if he were the GOP nominee.
“The other candidates look to Trump and follow his lead. They’ve seen that fear equals votes, and every last one wants a part of that spotlight,” said Correct the Record’s Adrienne Watson.
The Republicans had plenty of criticism for Clinton herself, however. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Clinton “wants to double down on a failed foreign policy” that Republicans need to unite to defeat. Christie promised “more murder in the Middle East” if Clinton is elected president. “Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are responsible for this because they were in power during the rise of ISIS,” Carly Fiorina said.
Fiorina’s point is likely to be a major one in the general election, no matter the GOP nominee, if Clinton wins her party’s nod. But Clinton’s campaign thinks experience and seriousness will ultimately prevail, despite her very real baggage, especially if Republicans seem as underprepared next year as they did tonight.
Clinton likely did not even watch the debate, as was expected to be traveling after a fundraiser in Minneapolis earlier in the evening.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s top rival for the Democratic nomination, somehow won the debate – at least when it came to Twitter. The Internet-popular Democrat picked up the largest number of new Twitter followers of any candidate during the debate, according to data provided by Twitter.
After taking heat all month for resisting talking about ISIS, Sanders sought to flip the tables on the GOP. “Like the first [debate], not one word about income inequality, climate change, or racial justice,” Sanders tweeted. His campaign also criticized Republicans for talking about sending more American soldiers into combat, while failing to discuss how to better help veterans who return with PTSD or traumatic brain injury.
Long-shot candidate Martin O’Malley’s campaign stayed mostly quiet during the debate. "Not one Republican presidential candidate on stage showed the thoughtfulness and leadership we need. Instead, we saw a cattle call of fear mongers more eager to stir up uncertainty than serve responsibly as Commander in Chief," he said in a statement after the debate.
At the same time, the Democratic National Committee sent no rapid response emails, which typically glob reporters’ inboxes, trying out an all-Twitter based strategy instead.