Republicans: It's all about beating Hillary Clinton

25 times Hillary came up at the Fox Business debate
25 times Hillary came up at the Fox Business debate

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    25 times Hillary came up at the Fox Business debate

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25 times Hillary came up at the Fox Business debate 01:25

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton was at the front of people's minds at the Fox Business debate Tuesday
  • Most candidates took aim at her economic policy or record as secretary of state
  • Chris Christie made Clinton the focus of his attention during the undercard debate

(CNN)It was 12 against one at the Republican debates in Milwaukee. And the star of the show wasn't even on stage.

Hillary Clinton has not yet won a single vote in the Democratic nominating contest, but the GOP candidates have called the race already.
Every candidate in the prime-time show mentioned the Democratic front-runner at least once -- and they didn't have good things to say. They called Clinton a disastrous secretary of state who helped President Barack Obama preside over a feckless foreign policy and as president, would come after Americans' wallets.
    Even the audience got into the act. Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo brought up Clinton's experience and "impressive resume," sparking boos and jeers from the crowd.
    For Republicans, the Clinton hits were chances for candidates to elevate themselves in comparison with the Democratic front-runner and tout their own credentials as the most likely Republican to topple her next year.
    It was also a sign that after a tough summer, the former secretary of state's campaign is acquiring the sheen of inevitability that was beginning to fade at this point in the 2008 race and that her operation is looking more and more like a general election effort.
    Jeb Bush, who needed a big night, used Clinton as an ideal foil.
    "Hillary Clinton has said that Barack Obama's policies get an A. Really? One in 10 people right now aren't working or have given up altogether," Bush said. "That's not an A. One in seven people are living in poverty. That's not an A. One in five children are on food stamps. That is not an A. It may be the best that Hillary Clinton can do, but it's not the best America can do."
    Ben Carson, asked about media scrutiny of his personal history, shifted the question to Clinton, recalling the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi seizing on what Republicans say are inconsistencies to Clinton's public and private responses to the attack in 2012 revealed during a congressional hearing last month.
    "When I look at somebody like Hillary Clinton, who sits there and tells her daughter and a government official that no, this was a terrorist attack, and then tells everybody else that it was a video," said Carson, accusing Clinton of lying.
    Former business executive Carly Fiorina has made Clinton a focus of her candidacy -- making an argument that if she was the GOP nominee, she would defuse one of the top Democrat's major electoral assets -- her gender.
    Fiorina asked the Republican audience at the debate to "imagine a Clinton presidency" which she said would see the military deteriorate and the Middle Class get crushed, before hinting at ethical questions which have haunted the ex-first lady and her husband.
    "A Clinton presidency will corrode the character of this nation. Why? Because of the Clinton way. Carly Fiorina can beat Hillary Clinton. I will beat Hillary Clinton."
    Donald Trump also warned that Republicans couldn't risk a Clinton presidency, saying she had been the worst secretary of state in history.
    And Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who spent the night trying to insert himself into the middle of the action, much as he is struggling to grab a central role in the wider nominating race, used Clinton as a rallying cry for GOP unity.
    "We have got to have a CEO mentality and a way to beat Hillary Clinton and her allies in the fall," Kasich said.
    "When the fall comes, and we run against Hillary .... it would be a disaster if she was elected."
    When Bartiromo asked Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to assess Clinton's experience and "impressive resume," she was booed, but Rubio started to laugh, possibly unable to believe his luck at getting such a softball. He launched into his familiar and blistering stump speech critique of Clinton, saying "humiliations" heaped on the U.S. around the world were her fault.
    "This election is about the future," the 44-year-old Rubio said, setting up the conceit that his youth would make him the best possible candidate to take on the 68-year-old Clinton -- a generational match-up that worries many Democrats.
    Rubio's fellow fortysomething, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, also managed to get in a shot.
    "She has a lot of experience, but her policies have been disastrous," Cruz said, adding that nothing embodied the "cronyism" of Washington like the Clintons.

    'Hillary Clinton's coming for your wallet'

    The Clinton-bashing started early, in the undercard debate.
    Chris Christie, the New Jersey Governor who is desperate for a leg up in the race, mentioned her over and over again.
    "She has made it very clear, she believes that she can make decisions for you better than you can make them for yourself," Christie said.
    "Believe me, Hillary Clinton's coming for your wallet, everybody."
    Christie also lashed the "absolutely weak and feckless foreign policy that was engineered by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama," and, not surprisingly had an idea for the best GOP candidate to take her on.
    "The fact is we need someone who knows how to beat Democrats, who knows how to beat Democrats in a Democratic area. I've done it twice as governor of New Jersey, and Hillary Clinton doesn't want one minute on that stage with me next September when I'm debating her, and prosecuting her for her vision for America."
    It was all too much for one candidate -- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
    "Look, we all agree Hillary Clinton is bad," he said.
    Of the 11 candidates on the stage all night, only former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee didn't mention Clinton.

    'High-fives'

    If Clinton's ears were burning throughout the evening, she wasn't letting on.
    But her campaign team -- which has billed itself all along as an anti-GOP effort, partly to avoid offering her rival Bernie Sanders a role on the stage beside her, had a busy night.
    At one point, Clinton's team tweeted a gif of the Democratic front runner with her chin on her hand and an exasperated look on her face, taken during the Benghazi hearing.
    The intent was apparent to argue that the kind of rhetoric on display at the debate was just more of the same of what Democrats see as the same old tired attacks on the former secretary of state.
    And when Bush warned Republicans not to squabble over hard-line positions on immigration because they would bolster Clinton and trigger "high fives" in her camp, her spokesman Brian Fallon was quick to offer a Tweet suggesting Clinton's delight in being center stage at a GOP debate and the level of confidence in her campaign.
    "We actually are doing high-fives right now," Fallon wrote.