Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio accused his peer Donald Trump of taking an "anti-Israel" stance during a debate in Houston, Texas on Thursday night.
Rubio, along with fellow candidate Ted Cruz, cited Trump's recent comments that he prefers to "sort of be neutral" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In defense against attacks from Rubio and Cruz, Trump said that it would be unhelpful as a negotiator to declare his unconditional support for any one side in the conflict.
Trump did however, call himself "very pro-Israel" and said that he had given substantial sums of money to Israel in the past. He also stated that no one on the debate stage had done more than himself to support Israel.
Rubio also targeted Trump's wealth and absence of detailed policy plans in an attempt to thwart the billionaire from making massive gains next week in the presidential race.
In perhaps his most aggressive performance to date, Rubio brought up Trump's four past bankruptcies and his use of imported Polish workers to work at a Florida resort, and pointedly suggested the New Yorker would not be where he is today in the real estate business without a family inheritance.
Without the family money, the senator from Florida said: "You know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan."
At the CNN-hosted debate at the University of Houston, Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas had one of their last, best chances to try to derail the blunt-spoken political outsider before Super Tuesday, when 11 states hold Republican nominating contests.
Whether they can pull it off is an open question. Trump has won three out of four contests in the Republicans' selection of a presidential nominee and may reap big gains on Tuesday.
At the debate, Trump was his typical pugnacious self, repeatedly interrupting Rubio and Cruz.
"When you're talking about 'crazy zealot,' are you talking about you?" Trump asked Cruz. "Give me a break."
Rubio, taking up the role of chief Trump attacker now that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has left the race, seemed to take joy in pointing out that Trump's sole plan to replace and repeal President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law is to allow insurance companies to operate across state lines.
When Trump repeated the same point twice, Rubio interrupted.
"Now he's repeating himself," said Rubio, who was skewered at a debate in New Hampshire last month for robotically repeating his talking points.
Trump fired back: "I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago, and I gotta tell you it was a meltdown. I watched him melt down on the stage like I've never seen anybody."
Even with his bombast, Trump turned in a more measured performance than usual, defending his moderate positions on Planned Parenthood and retaining popular parts of the Obamacare law, perhaps mindful that he is closing in on a victory in the Republican race.
Pressed on whether he would release his tax records as 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney said he should do, Trump said he would eventually after a "routine audit" is completed.
Rubio went after Trump hard on illegal immigration. He said Trump previously said Romney lost his race against Obama for saying illegal immigration could be solved by self-deportation.
"A lot of these positions that he's taken now are new to him," Rubio said during the debate in Houston.
Trump said Romney lost in 2012 because he was a terrible candidate.
"Excuse me, he ran one terrible campaign," Trump said.
Cruz, who needs to win his home state of Texas when it votes on Tuesday, piled on Trump, saying his rival would be a weak Republican opponent to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 general election because he previously donated to the Clinton Foundation.
Cruz said Clinton would say to him, "'Gosh, Donald you gave $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. I even went to your wedding...' He can't prosecute the case against Hillary."
Trump ridiculed Cruz for his inability to win more than the early voting state of Iowa and taunted him for being behind Trump in opinion polls in Texas.
"If I can't beat her (Clinton), you're really going to get killed aren't you? ... I know you're embarrassed but keep fighting. Swing for the fences," Trump said.
While Trump has scored early victories and is well ahead in national opinion polls, he has some ways to go to clinch the party's nomination, which is decided by the number of delegates sent to the July party convention following the state-by-state nominating contests.
So far Trump leads the race with 81 delegates, with Cruz and Rubio well behind at 17 apiece. To secure the nomination, a candidate needs 1,237 delegates.
Super Tuesday will be critical because there are nearly 600 delegates at stake in Republican races that day.
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