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Donald Trump comes under fire from Cruz and Rubio in fierce Republican debate

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz went sharply on the attack against Donald Trump in Thursday's fiery Republican debate.

Marco Rubio was ready to fight and other takeaways from the debate

 (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

A slimmer field of Republican candidates — just five remain — took the stage Thursday night for their 10th debate and last face-to-face session before Super Tuesday, when close to half the delegates needed to win the GOP nomination are up for grabs. It was a loud and raucous affair. With the stage lights in Houston still bright, here are our takeaways.

Bernie Sanders in Chicago: We need a 'political revolution' against wealthy status quo

 (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)
(Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

Bernie Sanders brought his Democratic presidential campaign to Chicago on Thursday night, making a populist pitch to the young, working-class and minority voters to join him in a “political revolution” against wealthy backers of the status quo.

The senator from Vermont, vying for the nomination against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spoke to several thousand people at Chicago State University, questioning the priorities of a gridlocked state government that has left the college in financial trouble.

'Polish workers' spike in Google search after Rubio spars with Trump over immigration

When the topic of immigration was brought to Thursday night's debate stage, Donald Trump took credit for its discussion.

Marco Rubio rebutted.

“If you’re going to claim that you’re the only one that lifted this issue into the campaign, then you acknowledge that, for example, you’re the only person on this stage that’s ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally," Rubio said.

Rubio then told the audience to fact-check that statement.

"He hired workers from Poland and he had to pay a million dollars or so in a judgement.... Go online and Google it. 'Donald Trump, Polish workers.' You’ll see it.”

And Google it they did. "Polish workers" spiked in Google search by 300%. 

Rubio was referencing a lawsuit from 1983 that involved 200 undocumented Polish immigrants who were employed at the Trump Tower construction site.

Marco Rubio insulted Trump, then tried to raise money off of it

 (Marco Rubio campaign)
(Marco Rubio campaign)

Marco Rubio began selling smashed Rolexes, sort of, on his campaign website for $10 on Thursday to echo an attack he made during the night's GOP debate about front-runner Donald Trump.

“If Donald Trump hadn’t inherited $200 million, he’d be selling watches like these in Manhattan," Rubio said.

His campaign's fundraising website cited that quote with an offer to sell a gold watch with a smashed glass lens. But the promotion came with a caveat:

“NOTE: You won’t actually get a broken Trump watch, but your $10 donation will help Marco stop him.”

Trump declares victory in debate

 (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

GOP front-runner Donald Trump declared victory in Thursday's debate, saying he was the subject of attacks by Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz because they are flailing in their pursuit of the nomination.

"They were coming," Trump told CNN immediately after the debate in Houston. "They're doing very badly in the polls. ... They are desperate. They are losing by massive amounts."

Trump said the Houston clash was among his best debates.

"I've dealt with tough people in the world over my lifetime," Trump said. Voters "see I'm the guy who can handle people."

Trump focused on Rubio, who for the first time went after the GOP front-runner.

"He's a choke artist. He chokes," Trump said. "It looked like he just came out of a swimming pool. He was soaking wet."

And Trump called out 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, saying that when Romney called on Trump to release his tax returns, he was merely trying to remain "relevant."

Later, speaking to reporters in the debate hall, Trump stressed that he has been "constantly audited by the IRS" noting that "I have friends that are very rich and are never audited."

He called Thursday "one of my better debate nights" and belittled Cruz's and Rubio's performances.

"This was a great evening for me," Trump said.

9:13 p.m.: This post was updated with Trump's comments to reporters after the debate.

Cruz: Having Donald Trump in the race has been like 'going to the circus'

Ted Cruz suggested that it's Donald Trump's presidential run, not his own teetering campaign, that may be showing signs of wear after Thursday's debate.

"This has been fun with Donald in the race; it has been entertaining," Cruz said in an interview with CNN immediately after the forum.

"It's like going to the circus: You have acrobats and clowns and dancing bears. But the stakes are serious."

"Donald Trump, if he's our nominee ... he loses to Hillary Clinton," Cruz predicted.

Cruz and fellow Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida have tried to claim they are best-positioned to take on Trump, and on Thursday they both went after him.

Cruz offered slight praise for Rubio's decision to join him in the ring.

"He did something tonight he's never done; he actually took on Donald Trump," Cruz said. "That should have happened earlier."

Cruz's campaign sputtered this week after his disappointing showing in South Carolina, a gateway to the Southern states that will be among those voting on Tuesday.

The Texas senator has made the Southern states a top priority in his appeal to religious and conservative voters, and he a solid showing to propel his campaign forward.

"We're going to have a very strong Super Tuesday," Cruz promised.

He noted new polling that has him ahead of Trump in his home state, while Rubio trails the billionaire in Florida.

"If you can't win your home state, that's a problem," Cruz said.

Candidates make their final pitches to national audience ahead of Super Tuesday

 (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

The five remaining Republican presidential candidates closed the combative debate Thursday night with succinct summations of their case to voters who will cast decisive votes across a huge swath of the nation next week on Super Tuesday.

“Nobody knows politicians better than I do,” Donald Trump said at the end of the CNN debate in Houston. “They’re all talk; they’re no action. Nothing gets done.”

Trump mentioned his tough posture on trade and his vows to build up the military and improve the treatment of veterans. “I will get it done,” he said. “Politicians will never get it done.”

Marco Rubio, whose relentless attacks on Trump in the debate reflected his dire need to defeat the New York billionaire in some of the contests next week, urged voters to “bring an end to the silliness, this looniness.”

“The votes are starting to count,” said Rubio, the senator from Florida. “And we have an incredible decision to make, not just about the direction of America, but the identity of our party and of the conservative movement. The time for games is over.”

Ted Cruz raced through a list of top priorities, including his pledge to order the Justice Department to investigate Planned Parenthood and prosecute the group for any criminal violations.

“There’s several deal makers on this stage, but there’s only one person who has consistently stood up to both parties, fighting for the American people against the Washington deals,” said the senator from Texas.

John Kasich portrayed himself as the strongest opponent to take on Democrat Hillary Clinton in November, citing his record as governor of Ohio and a member of Congress with experience in foreign policy, cutting taxes and promotion of economic growth.

“We won’t have to spend time figuring out what we’re going to do,” he said. “I will hit the ground running.”

Ben Carson contrasted his calm demeanor with the pugnaciousness of Trump, though not by name. “What kind of person do you want your kids to emulate?” he asked.

Real winner of GOP debate was Carson's 'fruit salad'

When asked how he would choose a Supreme Court nominee, Ben Carson gave an answer that was a head-scratcher.

"The fruit salad of their life is what I will look at," Carson said.

Predictably, Twitter went bananas.

Most tweeted moments during GOP debate? Trump's exchanges with Cruz and Rubio

According to Twitter, Donald Trump's heated exchanges with rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were the most tweeted moments from Thursday night's debate.

Candidates' closing statements, in summary

Marco Rubio shifts on Apple, seeking compliance in terrorism investigation

 (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Marco Rubio has shifted his views on Apple, saying the tech giant should comply with a court order to enable federal investigators try to crack the password on a San Bernardino terrorism suspect's iPhone.

"They should comply with that," Rubio said Thursday. "Apple doesn't want to do it because they think it hurts their brand. Well, let me tell you: Their brand is not superior to the national security of the United States."

Rubio had previously said the issue was complicated. But he said new information now shows that what investigators are seeking would not create a "back door" that could compromise phone security. Instead, investigators want to Apple to disable a function that would wipe out the phone's contents after multiple guesses at the password.

He but now aligns with Ted Cruz on the issue.

"He's now agreeing with me -- so I'm glad," Cruz said.

Raw hostility during Thursday's GOP debate

 (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Thursday’s Republican debate showed newly raw hostility between the three top contenders for the GOP presidential nomination, with anger erupting as they argued over campaign ethics.

Ted Cruz and Donald Trump sparred about their campaign tactics before Trump argued that he knew politicians better than career politicians did.

Cruz responded that he believed the businessman, because “for 40 years, you’ve been funding liberal politicians.”

Trump noted that he had also donated to Cruz: “I wrote you a check!”

Sen. Marco Rubio interjected that Trump had never funded him.

Trump responded that Rubio had sought his support.

“He sent me his book with his autograph,” Trump said, before adding dryly, “I’m having a lot of fun tonight.”

Cruz urged Trump to relax, to which Trump replied, “I’m relaxed. You’re the basket case.”

Marco Rubio shifts his view on Apple-FBI fight

Marco Rubio's answer was a change from last week, when he declined during a town hall to take the side of either Apple or the government on whether the tech giant should comply with a court order to help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers.

We're having a lot of fun up here tonight, I have to tell you.

Donald Trump, during Thursday's fiery Republican debate.

Mitt Romney calls again for Trump to release his tax returns

Mitt Romney reignited his attack on Donald Trump over his tax returns Thursday, a day after suggesting that Trump must be keeping them to himself because they contain "bombshells." During the latest Republican debate, Romney doubled down on Twitter:

People say that I whine a lot because I don't get time. I'm going to whine.


Ben Carson, seeking more debate stage time

Now he's repeating himself.

Marco Rubio, on Donald Trump trying to explain his alternative to Obamacare

Donald Trump slashes at Romney's call for release of tax returns

 (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

GOP front-runner Donald Trump lashed out Thursday at the party’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, who called on the businessman to release his full tax returns.

“Mitt Romney looked like a fool when he delayed and delayed and delayed,” Trump said during the latest GOP debate in Houston.

The wealthy Romney, who during his presidential campaign was closely scrutinized over his long refusal to release his tax returns, had said on Wednesday that he believed Trump must release his financial documents.

"We have good reason to believe that there’s a bombshell in Donald Trump’s taxes,” Romney said on Fox News. “Either he’s not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is, or he hasn’t been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay, or perhaps he hasn’t been giving money to the vets or to the disabled like he’s been telling us he’s been doing.”

Trump said during the debate that he was being audited, and pledged to release his returns once that process was complete. He also argued that the financial disclosures he filed earlier already provided fuller disclosures than tax returns.

Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Romney also urged to release his returns, said he planned to release them Friday or Saturday.

"Luckily, I'm not being audited," he said.

Who's the robot now? Marco Rubio pushes Donald Trump to repetition on healthcare

Marco Rubio pummeled Donald Trump over healthcare during Thursday's debate, forcing the billionaire to provide a specific alternative to Obamacare, which all the GOP candidates want to repeal.

"We should have gotten rid of the lines around each state so we could have real competition," Trump began, suggesting a standard Republican proposal for healthcare reform. "That's going to solve a lot of the problem."

But Rubio pushed for more.

"What is your plan? This is not a game where you draw maps," Rubio said.

Trump repeated the proposal to allow health insurance companies to cross state lines and increase competition. He promised it would be "a beautiful thing."

"Now he's repeating himself," Rubio chided.

Trump brought up a previous debate in New Hampshire, which left Rubio badly bruised after he repeated himself, drawing criticism that was speaking robotically.

"I watched him repeat himself five times," Trump lashed out.

"I saw you repeat yourself five times, five seconds ago," Rubio said.

Donald Trump can't be trusted on Supreme Court picks, Cruz and Rubio argue

 (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both argued in Thursday’s Republican presidential debate that Donald Trump could not be trusted to appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

Rubio said Trump “has not been on our side” ideologically. “We’re always looking for converts to the conservative movement,” the senator from Florida said.

Cruz cited Trump’s campaign contributions years ago to such Democrats as Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Nobody who bankrolled such politicians “could possibly care” about naming conservative judges, the Texas senator said.

Trump, in turn, slammed Cruz for pushing aggressively for the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts, who enraged conservatives by upholding President Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act.

John Kasich said he had named conservative judges as governor of Ohio. “They don’t make the law; they interpret the law,” he said.

He also said he opposes same-sex marriage, but defended his statement that merchants should not be able to refuse to sell cupcakes to a gay couple getting married. “The court has ruled, and I’ve moved on,” he said.

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