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As GOP candidates debate, Clinton aides cheer 'Trump show'

As GOP candidates debate, Clinton aides cheer 'Trump show'
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton greets Aretha Peters, a home care provider from Cleveland, at an event at Los Angeles Trade Technical College on Aug. 5. Clinton later attended a fundraiser. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't watch the Republican debate Thursday night, instead attending a fundraiser in Los Angeles where guests were to include Kim Kardashian.

But while Clinton skipped the debate, her campaign has spent considerable energy  the last several days trying to focus attention on it, clearly believing that a Republican event with Donald Trump at the center would be helpful to Democratic prospects.

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"Hillary Clinton wasn't on the stage, but we felt she was the clear winner," the Clinton campaign's communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, told reporters. "In about 144 minutes there was not one idea … about what they would do to raise incomes for middle-class families."

"They are out of touch. They just don't have any solutions for helping the challenges families are facing today," Palmieri said.

Palmieri was speaking to reporters from a filing center the Clinton campaign set up at its headquarters in Brooklyn. The idea was for Clinton staffers to provide immediate response as the former secretary of State was attacked during the debate.

But, instead, the GOP candidates mostly attacked one another, and the Clinton campaign staff offered only limited remarks as the debate unfolded.

The biggest challenge the Clinton team faced was confronting the charge from Donald Trump that he was able to draw Clinton to his wedding after making contributions to her. Palmieri said – somewhat in jest – that the remark was hurtful.

"He invited her," she said. "It hurt her feelings for him to suggest he didn't actually want her there for her company."

It was unclear whether the night changed the campaign's feelings about Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and the GOP candidate Clinton has clearly seemed to be preparing to face in the general election; she has attacked him aggressively on the campaign trail in recent weeks. Bush's performance on Thursday was unsteady.

"Some days I am concerned Jeb Bush will be the nominee," Palmieri said. "Some days I am concerned Jeb Bush won't be the nominee."

The Democrats particularly cheered Sen. Marco Rubio's statement that he would not allow abortions under any circumstances, denying that he supported exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

"It was another example of why the night was so destructive to them," Palmieri said. "They have the national stage, and they are speaking to such a small segment of the population."

By contrast, she said Ohio Gov. John Kasich's attempt to express empathy for gay couples would fall flat.

"John Kasich is not for gay marriage. You don't get a pass. You don't to say nice things and you went to your friend's wedding and then still be against gay marriage," she said.

And the most surprising thing of the night to those watching from Brooklyn?

"That it was still the Trump show," she said. "I thought there would be someone who would try to make a moment to distinguish themselves that is more appealing to the country as a whole."

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For more on the Clinton campaign, follow @EvanHalper.

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