HOUSTON — After weeks of holding his fire on Donald Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tore into the Republican presidential frontrunner at Thursday’s GOP debate, going after Trump’s position on immigration and targeting Trump’s key argument for his candidacy: his business record.
In a strikingly aggressive attack that was quickly followed up by opposition emails from his campaign, Rubio went after Trump for his companies’ bankruptcies; his management of Trump University, which is the subject of a federal lawsuit; and his use of undocumented and foreign workers in his properties in New York and Florida.
“You’re only person on this stage that has ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally,” Rubio said, referring to a decades-old lawsuit against Trump over his use of Polish immigrants in the construction of Trump Tower in New York.
“No, I’m the only one on the stage that’s hired people,” Trump shot back. “You haven’t hired anybody.”
For several seconds, Rubio and Trump talked over one another — with the Florida senator at one point urging viewers to “Google Trump Polish workers.” In response, Trump called Rubio “a liar.” “Just be quiet,” Trump finally said.
A few minutes later, Rubio got in another dig at Trump’s business record, suggesting he is not as successful as he suggests on the campaign trail. “If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be?” Rubio said. “Selling watches in Manhattan.”
Rubio’s attacks came as he seeks to position himself as the best alternative to Trump ahead of next week’s Super Tuesday primary states and beyond. But Sen. Ted Cruz, who is also vying to make it a two-man race between him and Trump, also went after the real estate mogul and former reality television star, trashing the GOP frontrunner as weak on immigration.
“When I was leading the fight against the Gang of 8 amnesty bill, he was firing Dennis Rodman on ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’” Cruz said.
Trump responded by bringing up Cruz’s tempestuous relationship with his GOP colleagues in the Senate. “You get along with nobody,” Trump told Cruz. “You don’t have one Republican senator backing you. … You should be ashamed of yourself.”