US debate: Republicans pile on frontrunner Trump

The Donald is the main target of verbal attacks by opponents ahead of the crucial Super Tuesday vote.

One day, this might be seen as Marco Rubio’s last stand.

The night when he had to take down the biggest obstacle to winning the Republican presidential nomination.

And if the polls are to be believed and the electoral maths remains unchanged, historians will note Rubio tried hard and battled gamely, but ultimately was unsuccessful.

From the first moments of the debate here in Houston, he went after rival candidate Donald Trump.

For the past few days, the Florida senator’s campaign had said they weren’t going to attack Trump. They were going to talk issues. They were going to talk policy.

If it was a fake to throw Trump off his game – it didn’t work.

Rubio knows the momentum lies elsewhere. He can dress up second place as a victory, but the reality is Trump has won the last three contests and he’s coming back for more.

And so he had to try to stop the businessman before he did any more damage to his dreams and aspirations.

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He hit him with everything.

From using illegal immigrants to build his famous Trump Tower in New York, to his inability to add flesh to the bones of his plan to scrap what’s become known as Obamacare.

At one point he even said if he hadn’t received millions in loans from his father “he’d be selling watches in Manhattan”, suggesting he was a conman who was not to be trusted.

This wasn’t the Trump from the South Carolina debate of 10 days ago. Then, under attack, he seemed to come close to unravelling.

This time, he was angry, but not as angry. He didn’t win every exchange, but he didn’t lose them badly either.

Rubio wasn’t alone.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz threw a few insults Trump’s way. He questioned his support of Democrat politicians in the past.  He queried his support for Planned Parenthood, a women’s health organisation that gives abortion advice and is loathed by many Republicans.

And he wondered if Trump really supported religious liberty. But his didn’t land a blow that would take Trump out of the race. And that is a worry too for Cruz, who has been leading in Texas, but now sees that lead disappearing under another Trump charge. And if he can’t win his home state, he’s done.

He told Trump he couldn’t win the presidential election in November. And Trump wondered how Cruz could do that if he couldn’t even beat him.

Cruz, the arch conservative in the race, didn’t have a bad night. But he didn’t have a good one either. And he needed one.

It was interesting that Cruz and Rubio spent less time battling each other. But that is a development that may have come too late to help either of them.

There were moments in which policy was discussed in detail. Ohio Governor John Kasich gave reasoned and smart answers on the budget and his approach to North Korea, but they were lost in the noise. He believes he stands a good chance of winning states in the mid-west – but became a sideshow here. As did Ben Carson. 

It’s hard to find anyone who can justify why the retired neurosurgeon is still in the race.

The story of the night will be how Rubio confronted Trump. How, for the first time, he seemed unafraid to take on the mantle of the anti-Trump candidate and how he took the fight to his rival. 

And how Trump leaves the debate as he entered it – the Republican frontrunner and favourite.

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Source: Al Jazeera