LAS VEGAS—A "proud and privileged" Hillary Clinton came out swinging against Republicans and her Democratic opponents Tuesday evening during the first televised Democratic debate.
Clinton found herself quickly challenged about a range of flip-flops and shift in positions over the past months and years. She seemed unsure if she is a "progressive" or a "moderate."
Clinton, who referred to herself off the bat as a "proud and privileged" candidate, opened the debate by going after socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont), who is widely perceived as the former secretary of state’s chief competition for the Democratic nomination.
When asked about a rise in gun violence and violent crimes across the United States, Clinton took a firm stance against the National Rifle Association (NRA) and vowed to take on the pro-gun organization.
"This has gone on too long and it's time the entire country stand up against the NRA," Clinton proclaimed to rousing applause from the audience at the Wynn Hotel.
Asked if Sanders had taken a firm enough stance on gun control, Clinton responded, "No. Not at all."
Clinton did not shy away from her tenure in the Obama administration, touting her accomplishments as secretary of state and bragging that he had "spent a lot of time" with President Obama "in the Situation Room" reviewing major foreign policy issues of the day.
Clinton supported a no fly zone in Syria, where Russian forces have recently entered the fray and said that she would work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to diffuse the situation there.
"We have to stand up to his bullying," Clinton said, adding that she applauds the Obama administration for its handling of the situation there.
Sanders disagreed. He blamed Clinton for pushing the nation to a war in Iraq.
"You’re talking about a quagmire in a quagmire," Sanders said, emphasizing that he wants to "make sure the U.S. does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country."
After Clinton lent her support to a no fly zone in Syria, Sanders responded, "I heard the same evidence from President Bush, Dick Cheney, and Don Rumsfeld about why we should overthrow Saddam Hussein."
Clinton’s response to the issue was quickly panned by analysts and experts on Twitter and elsewhere, who referred to it as "babble" and "surprisingly weak."
Clinton and Sanders each tried to position themselves as champions of the middle class on the domestic front.
Sanders repeatedly claimed he would "take back" the country from the "millionaires and billionaires" who, in his view, control all the wealth.
Meanwhile, underdog candidates Jim Webb, former Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley battled to get airtime.
Update 12:02 A.M.:
Candidates and their surrogates flooded CNN's spin room following the debate in an effort to boost their respective candidate's performance.
Rep. Judy Chu (R., Calif.), a Clinton supporter, told the Washington Free Beacon that the former secretary of state looked "confident" and composed during her performance on the debate stage.
"I think America has been able to see the Hillary we all know," the lawmaker said. "The Hillary that’s compassionate, the Hillary that is strong, and the Hillary that really has a vision for the future."
Chu also defended Clinton's silence about the email scandal, calling it a distraction from the real issues impacting Americans.
"I thought that it put it front of center that America is sick and tired about all this discussions of the emails," Chu said. "That’s not the most important thing."
Asked by a reporter to address Clinton's upcoming appearance before a congressional panel investing the 2012 Benghazi attack, Chu said she expected Clinton to perform well.
"She has been asking for this hearing for a long time. In fact, the Republicans have been using this as a political ploy, not even having a hearing, just making a lot of points about this to the media, they are crowing that its bringing down her poll numbers," the lawmaker said. "The fact that she’s actually able to present her side of the story, finally, is a very important step forward."
Meanwhile, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) complimented all of the candidates and hailed the evening as a landmark event in the burgeoning campaign season.
Wasserman Schultz also told the Free Beacon during a brief interview that she did not regret her recent vote in favor of the Iran nuclear accord despite concerns from some constituents in her district. The congresswoman maintained that it was in the best interest of both America and Israel to support the deal.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) slammed the debate as "stale" in a statement Tuesday night.
"The Democratic debate was a predictably stale evening of liberal politicians proposing to spend trillions more that we don’t have. Considering the weak caliber of Clinton’s competition, it speaks volumes that she continues to flip-flop and change positions in an attempt to save her faltering campaign," RNC chairman Reince Priebus said.
"Clinton’s record of hypocrisy and flip-flops on everything from Wall Street, trade, immigration, and foreign policy was on full display. Her unwillingness to fully explain the circumstances surrounding her secret email server, and the ongoing FBI investigation into it, further damages her credibility," he added.