MANCHESTER, United States, Dec 20 – Hillary Clinton and other Democratic presidential hopefuls used Donald Trump as a political bogeyman Saturday to highlight their own calls to defeat jihadist extremists without using the bigotry and bluster employed by their top Republican rival.
Former secretary of state Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders and Maryland ex-governor Martin O’Malley each hit on the need to boost national security, raise the minimum wage and protect rights of women, minorities and the disadvantaged as they faced off in New Hampshire.
But they had heated exchanges on the economy, guns, tackling the terrorist threat, and the role of the United States abroad.
With just over six weeks before the first votes are cast in the nomination race, on February 1 in Iowa, Sanders and O’Malley are running out of time to blunt the momentum of the former secretary of state, who is 25 points ahead of rival Sanders in national polling compiled by RealClearPolitics.com.
O’Malley trails them both badly.
It was their party’s third debate of the primary election season – the last of 2015 and their first since the attacks in San Bernardino, California, where a radicalized married couple killed 14 people.
But the candidates also took turns hitting the Trump punching bag, as they hurled outrage about the Republican’s fear-mongering and recent controversial comments about immigrants – in particular, his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Americans, Clinton said, “need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears.”
“He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter,” Clinton said of the self-declared Islamic State extremist group, claiming that jihadists are “showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.”
O’Malley also offered a harsh rebuke to the “political danger” wielded by Trump and other “unscrupulous leaders (who) try to turn us upon each other.”
The country will rise to the challenge of the IS extremists, but only if Americans never surrender their values “to the fascist pleas of billionaires with big mouths. We are a better country than this.”
Trump’s apparent popularity has only grown in recent weeks since his most contentious remarks. The political neophyte tops most Republican national polls and is putting establishment candidates like Jeb Bush in knots.