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Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz come out swinging at Donald Trump in debate

Republican presidential candidates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio,

Republican presidential candidates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, left, and businessman Donald Trump argue while answering a question during the CNN Republican presidential primary debate at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music Opera House in Houston on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. Credit: EPA / Gary Coronado

Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz aggressively attacked front-runner Donald Trump in the tenth debate among Republican presidential candidates Thursday in Houston, criticizing him on immigration, health care, judicial nominees and even his inheritance.

Less than a week before Super Tuesday, when 11 states are holding Republican primaries or caucuses, the two rookie senators confronted Trump in ways they hadn’t in previous debates. Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, seeking to attract moderates, told voters that the top priority should be “jobs, jobs, jobs” and that the next president should be someone who can accomplish things, not just make rhetorical points.

The heightened attacks on Trump occurred after the New Yorker scored his third straight win, routing the field two days earlier in Nevada. The other candidates were vying to be the one Republican whom leaders could rally behind to stop Trump. CNN moderators lost control of the debate on more than one occasion, as the candidates repeatedly shouted over one another.

The sharpest exchanges came between Trump and Rubio, beginning on immigration.

Rubio (R-Fla.) accused Trump of constantly shifting his position on the issue and hiring illegal immigrants to work at his hotels in Florida. Taking a shot at Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border, a newly aggressive Rubio said: “If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he’ll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it.”

In response, Trump said: “First, I’m the only one on stage that’s hired people. You haven’t hired anybody.”

But Rubio didn’t sit back. He said Trump’s business success was built on an inheritance from his father.

“If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan,” Rubio said.

Trump countered that he didn’t inherit that amount, that he borrowed $1 million and “turned it into $10 billion.” Then he fired back on Rubio’s personal finance problems.

“You’ve had nothing but problems with your credit cards,” Trump said.

Cruz (R-Texas), the only Republican to beat Trump in a state contest so far, in Iowa, criticized Trump for lack of details on immigration and then said the businessman can’t be counted on to nominate a conservative to the U.S. Supreme Court. Cruz said Trump would bend too much to deal with Democrats — prodding Trump to say of Cruz, “I respect Ted, but he gets nowhere. He stands on the Senate floor and talks and talks for days. We have to have someone who’s going to make deals.

“If you want to be liked in Washington, that’s not a good attribute for being president,” Cruz said.

Later, Trump looked at Cruz and said: “When you say crazy zealot, are you talking about you?”

Referring to Rubio, then Cruz, the two foes flanking him on stage, Trump said: “This guy’s a choke artist, and this guy’s a liar.”

More than once, the three tried to out shout one another for an extended period as CNN’s Wolf Blitzer failed to get them to cease.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose stock has fallen steadily over the past two months, was ignored for lengthy stretches by the moderators. When he got a chance, he delivered some odd phrasings, such as saying the country was “heading off the abyss of destruction” and that when he studied someone, he liked to look at “the fruit salad of their life.”

“Can somebody attack me, please?” Carson said at one point, expressing his frustration at being disregarded by rivals and moderators.

Kasich came in second in New Hampshire and has been trying to survive the primary swing through the South, figuring he can fare better when the contest moves to the Midwest. He took a more moderate approach on immigration, saying he favored a “guest worker” program instead of mass deportation, which he called unrealistic.

“I don’t think we’re going to tear families apart,” Kasich said.

He said he had something none of the others had: a track record, balancing budgets and appointing conservative judges.

“I’ve appointed over a hundred judges in Ohio and you know what they are? They are conservatives,” Kasich said. “Go check it out.”

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