National Journal

Rand Paul and Chris Christie sparred. The Happy Hour Debate candidates scrapped for attention. The moderators challenged Donald Trump's credibility.

But two words wove through virtually every answer in the hours of Republican presidential debates Thursday night: Hillary Clinton. The field hasn't settled on a consensus best way to take on the Democratic front-runner — but each of them zeroed in on a different part of her long public record throughout Thursday's events in Cleveland.

They railed on her tenure as the face of the Obama administration's foreign policy; they called her out for supporting Planned Parenthood; they bemoaned her refusal to take a position on the Keystone XL pipeline. Some tied her to Washington dysfunction; others dismissed her as a product of the far Left; one lambasted her inability to improve the economy.

Every candidate had something to say about Clinton, however brief — but unlike the national Republican Party, which has focused heavily on Clinton's trustworthiness and on headlines about the Clinton Foundation and her private email server, the GOP candidates came at Clinton from all different directions.

In fact, there was only one reference to the various Clinton "scandals" during the prime-time debate: a quip from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker after a question about cybersecurity. "The Russian and Chinese governments know more about Hillary Clinton's email server than do the members of the United States Congress," he said.

Walker and others did also touch on Clinton's tenure at State, denouncing the "Obama-Clinton foreign policy." "Everywhere in the world that Hillary Clinton touched is more messed up today than before she and the president took office."

The rest of the candidates approached Clinton from different angles.

Marco Rubio suggested Clinton is out of touch with the economic realities of American voters. "If I'm our nominee, how is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck," he said. "How is she going to lecture me about student loans? I owed over $100,000 just four years ago."

Jeb Bush focused on Clinton's repeated refusals to take a position on the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. "Hillary Clinton, who can't even say she's for the XL pipeline even after she's left? Give me a break!" he said.

Even Trump piled on — by saying that Clinton was beholden to him after he donated to the Clinton Foundation and her New York Senate campaign. "With Hillary Clinton, I said, 'Be at my wedding,' and she came to my wedding," he said. "You know why? She had no choice, because I gave. I gave to a foundation that frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn't know that money would be used on private jets going around the world. It was."

Ben Carson, asked what he would do if he faced off against Clinton, blasted her as the epitome of "the Alinsky model" and indicated she's too far left to lead the country. "If Hillary is the candidate, which I doubt, then that would be a dream come true," Carson said. "But the fact of the matter is, she is the epitome of the secular progressive movement."

The theme extended to the earlier undercard event Thursday. In the Happy Hour Debate for second-tier candidates in the polls, Carly Fiorina spent much of her closing statement talking about Clinton, throwing attacks at her over multiple issues. "Hillary Clinton lies about Benghazi, she lies about emails, she is still defending Planned Parenthood, and is still her party's front-runner," Fiorina said, adding that the Democratic Party is "undermining the very character of this nation."

Lindsey Graham even made a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, something he has brought up at other points recently.

"You know, when Bill Clinton says it depends on what the meaning of 'is' is, that means 'is' is whatever Bill wants it to mean," he said. "When Hillary Clinton tells you, 'I've given you all the emails you need,' that means she hasn't."

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