Republicans ceded the stage to the Democrats for a night on Tuesday, but not without chipping in with some tweets and statements from afar.
The GOP presidential field took plenty of shots on social media. Twitter aficionado and Republican front-runner Donald Trump spent the night doling out a mix of boasts about his ability to draw ratings in his own debates (“Sorry, there is no STAR on the stage tonight!”) and retweeting supporters.
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When it came to inflammatory statements, however, it wasn’t Trump but former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who led the field with an off-color joke about Asians eating dogs. “I trust [Bernie Sanders] with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador!” Huckabee tweeted. After a torrent of criticism, Huckabee responded that "Poor liberals think it's racist to deplore a brutal dictatorship." Earlier, he tweeted that “racism exists because we have a sin problem in America, not a skin problem.”
Both Huckabee and Trump criticized the Democratic candidates for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, a response to police violence, rather than saying “all lives matter.” “Sanders said only black lives matter – wow!” Trump tweeted. Another moment that got some attention: Sanders proudly defending his title as a “democratic socialist” rather than a capitalist. “Democrats are debating whether capitalism is a good thing,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal tweeted. “Naturally.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tied the candidates to President Obama, pointing to when Clinton cited her former rival’s decision to appoint her as secretary of state as a sign of her foreign policy judgment.
“Sec. Clinton might be the only person who thinks the Obama/Clinton foreign policy has been a success,” Bush tweeted. “’Smart power at its best’ Seriously?”
Sen. Rand Paul attacked Clinton’s support for military action in Libya, calling the results “utter chaos.” Sen. Marco Rubio sat the debate out on Twitter, but linked to a “Democratic debate bingo game” on his website.
The Republican National Committee blasted out emails assailing Clinton throughout the debate. One said she “flip flopped on the Obama trade deal” in coming out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership after boasting about her work on it in her memoirs. Clinton said in the debate that she was disappointed in its final version, although the deal has not yet been made public.
A number of conservative commentators credited Clinton with the strongest performance in the debate – although some noted she faced less intense competition than the crowded GOP field.
“I think Clinton won the debate,” RedState’s Erick Erickson tweeted. “She wasn't thrown off her game, countered the Sanders challenge effectively, and was defended by the others.
Some also expressed interest in Sen. Jim Webb, who has criticized Democrats for alienating working class white voters, as a Democrat with crossover appeal.
“Webb is to conservatives as Kasich is to liberals/media, the ‘reasonable guy’ from the other side they like most,” Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway tweeted.
Notably, the Republican National Committee went out of its way to spin the debate as a victory for Sanders.
"Hillary Clinton may be the strongest debater on the stage – she was in 2008 too -- but it was Bernie Sanders that won the hearts and interest of Democrat voters," RNC spokesman Michael Short said in a statement.