January 14, 2016 10:51 PM EST

President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address was an easy target of the Republican debate on Thursday night, where candidates lambasted the president’s optimistic tone.

“On Tuesday night, I watched story time with Barack Obama and it sounded like everything was going amazing,” said Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey in response to his first question.

From Christie to Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and especially Donald Trump, candidates stood behind their podiums taking swipes at the “rosy picture” President Obama painted about the state of the country in Tuesday night’s address. Throughout the address, Obama sought to counter the hasty rhetoric of candidates in the Republican presidential primary, many of whom insist the country is on the brink of destruction.

Candidates spent the early part of the night’s debate ripping apart key themes of the president’s address. On Tuesday, Obama said “the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air,” to which Ted Cruz responded that, “the Obama-Clinton economy has left behind the working men and women of this country.” Obama also blasted Republican’s idea that America is weak in comparison to its enemies. “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close,” he said. Bush, not buying it, said “our friends no longer think we have their back and our enemies no longer fear us.”

Cruz also attacked Obama for not talking about the 10 sailors who had been detained in Iran on Tuesday during the address. The Obama administration announced Wednesday that the sailors had been released by Iran, a swift turnaround officials said was made possible due to the two countries’ improved relations. “Obama didn’t so much as mention the 10 sailors that had been captured by Iran,” Cruz said. “It was heartbreaking.”

In a symbolic move, First Lady Michelle Obama invited Syrian refugee Refaai Hamo, whose story was chronicled in a series of stirring Humans of New York posts, to join her as a guest at the State of the Union. Trump alluded to Hamo’s invitation during the debate on Thursday when he was asked about the notion that his campaign is based in fear and anger. Syrian refugees, he said, “could be the great Trojan horse.”

“We have to stop with political correctness, we have to create a country that does not have the problems that we’ve had,” Trump said later in the debate. His campaign he insisted, is not based in “fear and terror.”

“It’s reality,” Trump said.

President Obama spent some of the address subtly wading into the testy waters of the primary debate. “We live in a time of extraordinary change ,” Obama said. “Change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.”

That change, Obama has said, is stoking fear among families in parts of America that feel like they’re being left behind. But he’s also argued that the fear is being exploited by candidates like Donald Trump. On Tuesday, he essentially told Americans that though he understands their sentiment, there’s hope for the future. On Thursday, Republican candidates argued that there is only hope if a Republican is elected.

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