While Cruz called Trump, who has vowed to check migrants and transfer of jobs to non-Americans, a "crazy zealot", in a feisty exchange of words during a primary debate in Houston, Rubio alleged that real estate mogul would have been selling watches but for the United States dollars 200 million he inherited from his wealthy father.
And in that sense, the debate didn't disappoint. And when Cruz challenged Trump's conservative credentials by suggesting he's been too cozy with Democrats, the front-runner ripped the senator for being loathed by many of his Senate colleagues. Trump is looking strong heading into a big day of nominating contests. Probably took them away from me, too. The debate's location in Houston gave a nod to the primacy of Texas in that voting: There are 595 delegates at stake, 155 in Texas. As it turns out, he did Thursday. The evening marked the strongest debate performance for the Florida senator, who immediately used a question about immigration to aim fire at Trump.
Rubio took the opportunity to take a swing at Trump for the fact that undocumented Polish workers helped build Trump Tower.
"No, no, no", Trump responded.
Trump taunted him by citing one recent poll: "I'm tied in Texas, which I shouldn't be".
Trump insisted that he would be able to achieve his goal as people would go back on their own, which he described as self-deportation.
Trump remained true to himself, coming across as the group's political "moderate", such as when he praised Planned Parenthood for saving the lives of million of women. "Now he's repeating himself", Rubio went on, coyly referencing a previous debate in which Rubio badly hurt himself by repeating the same answer several times.
The Republican party knows that appealing to the Latino community is key to winning in 2016. "I seem to have a very good track record when they do go after me", he told NBC.
"It has been resolved on terms agreeable to both sides", labor lawyer Wendy Sloan, who represented the union members, told the New York Daily News. And he said that because Mexico's current and former presidents had criticized him on the issue, "the wall just got 10 feet taller". "I love them" (seemingly in reference to Telemundo). Those polls, as the Washington Post's Janell Ross points out, come from a small sample (and, therefore, have a wide margin of error), and only represent a small fraction of Nevada's Latino population, which has tended to vote heavily Democratic. "When you get rid of the lines it brings in competition...." "I know politicians, believe it or not, better than you do and it's not good".
"I can't release it while I'm under an audit", he said. " Matthews jabbed. "He debates on television nearly or equal in most cases or sometimes better, and he's actually had a career building stuff". Joining in, Cruz criticised Trump for suggesting he alone had "discovered the issue of illegal immigration". Rubio and Cruz were tougher.
Rubio, meanwhile, is barely past a prime-time flop.
"I don't think we're going to tear families apart. I don't think - first of all, I don't think it's practical and I don't think it reflects America". Their attendance was all the more notable since this was the first GOP debate of the season in which their son, Jeb, didn't appear after dropping out of the race. When the topic of religious liberty came up again later, Kasich said that the Supreme Court has ruled on same-sex marriage and that he has "moved on". "That's my view", he said. "If you look at Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, they started moving people out and the rest of them left", he said.
Seeking to become the Trump alternative, Cruz and Rubio have significant liabilities of their own. Rumors of a meeting between the two candidates earlier this week led to speculation that they had made some sort of deal to take on Trump together. This could manifest itself on Super Tuesday by Rubio winning a couple of states - maybe Minnesota, maybe Virginia - and coming in a close second in many others. Beyond that, he wasn't specific, saying he'd "cut numerous agencies" and "balance our budget". The senator was prepared for Trump's frequent habit of interrupting and nearly willfully refused to back down when the businessman tried to talk over him.
This debate demonstrated just how destructive it was to the Republican Party that there were so many candidates crowding the stages at the earlier debates. Rubio has also been accumulating what could be a critical mass of endorsements and support from Republican donors and elected officials.