Ahead of the CNN debate, Marco Rubio supporters begged him to challenge Donald Trump, after the Florida senator lost repeatedly to the billionaire outsider presidential candidate in early states.
Rubio delivered. Tonight in Texas his supporters screamed with joy as he gleefully threw punches, referring to Trump by name and challenging him for details about his policies.
Trump didn’t back down, however, repeatedly interrupting Rubio as he tried to land a memorable line against the bombastic debate champion. That strategy worked, effectively deflecting the damage that Rubio was trying to inflict.
“Such a cute soundbite,” Trump replied, after Rubio delivered one of his prepared lines.
Rubio came armed with a tub of opposition research — on Trump University, Trump’s record of hiring illegal immigrants — and he challenged Trump for details on important policy issues.
“Well, I don’t know anything about bankrupting four companies,” Rubio said, during a discussion on the economy.
“All right, I guess there’s a statute of limitation on lies,” Rubio said, after Trump tried to dismiss an attack on the troublesome “Trump University” as something that happened years ago.
“Why don’t you make them in America?” he said, referring to Trump’s ties and suits.
“If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he’ll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it,” Rubio said, repeatedly asking the audience to Google “Polish workers” and “Donald Trump.”
Rubio also pointed out that Trump inherited $200 million, which helped him become successful, suggesting that he would be “selling watches” without his father’s money. (That prepared attack was backed by the Rubio campaign selling broken Trump watches on the Rubio website.)
Rubio’s attacks were successful, but with his delegate count much lower than Trump’s, it made him look calculating and strategic. Trump also appeared comfortable deflecting attacks from the eager young senator.
But Trump realized that Rubio was his new enemy, selecting Rubio as the target of his attacks in the CNN post debate interview. He reminded viewers that the Florida senator was a “choke artist” who lost versus Christie in a previous debate and was “pouring sweat.”
But Rubio imitated Christie’s tactics by gesturing to the audience and pointing out Trump’s weaknesses on stage. In the debate on Obamacare, Rubio repeatedly asked Trump for his plan.
“What is your plan, Mr. Trump? What is your plan on healthcare?” he said.
As Trump repeatedly tried to keep his point about ending “state lines” for the insurance industry, Rubio jumped in: “Now he’s repeating himself.”
“I see him repeat himself every night, he says five things, everyone’s dumb, he’s gonna make America great again … We’re going to win, win, win, he’s winning in the polls … Every night,” Rubio said.
On foreign policy, Rubio poked holes in Trump’s remarks about Israel and Palestine, reminding voters that it was a problem that couldn’t be solved by a deal maker.
“He thinks a Palestinian is a real estate deal … The Palestinians are not a real estate deal, Donald … A deal is not a deal when you’re dealing with terrorists. Have you ever negotiated with terrorists?”
Rubio and Ted Cruz both went after Trump, expertly picking at his enormous lead, but Trump focused on his strength — the fact that he is an entertainer and an outsider.
“Nobody knows politicians better than I do. They’re all talk, they’re no action, nothing gets done,” he said. “I’ve watched it for years. Take a look at what’s happening to our country. All of the things that I’ve been talking about … I will get it done. Politicians will never, ever get it done. And we will make America great again. Thank you.”