Marco Rubio, the young and feisty Floridian who would be president, out-debated the rest of the remaining Republican presidential field Thursday night in a performance that probably won’t help him move the needle in time to help with Tuesday’s smorgasbord of primary elections.
The too-little-too-late phenomenon was enough to leave some Rubio partisans shaking their heads at the University of Houston after debate night was in the books.
‘I don’t know what we’re doing here, really,’ one Rubio staffer – identified by a special backstage credential hanging around his neck – said to another within earshot of reporters.
‘Nothing matters,’ DailyMail.com overheard him telling his colleague. ‘We could cure cancer tomorrow and we’re not going to flip Alabama.’
The first-term senator got the better of GOP front-runner Donald Trump more than once, and outshone his Texas counterpart Ted Cruz in the battle over who would carry the party’s silver medal into the fattest part of the primary season.
But Rubio is facing an unforgiving election calendar whose first bonanza – a long list of voting contests on March 1 that includes Alabama and other southern jackpots – is just five days away.
There’s no poll showing him leading Trump in any so-called ‘Super Tuesday’ state. And in his own home state of Florida, which will hold a Republican primary on March 15, he’s trailing the billionaire real estate titan by more than a dozen percentage points.
But there he was, on the stage of the university’s opera house, threatening – for a few hours, at least, – to make Trump into a parlor joke.
Rubio created one of he night’s most open-mouthed raucous moments, during a segment about the Obamacare health insurance law, when he dared Trump to lay out a detailed plan to replace the president’s much-maligned scheme.
Trump said at every turn that he would erase ‘lines around the states’ – a way of describing how consumers are forbidden by law from purchasing insurance plans from companies in states outside the one where they live.
Rubio scolded Trump for offering the same answer over and over again.
‘Now he’s repeating himself!’ he said, chuckling at the spectacle of Trump being a robot – the role in which he himself was cast weeks earlier in New Hampshire when he repeated his own set of talking points on the debate stage.
‘No. I don’t repeat myself! Here’s the guy who repeats himself!’ Trump said, trying to ricochet the moment back at Rubio.
‘I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago,’ The Donald recalled.
‘I saw you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago!’ Rubio jabbed back.
Trump told reporters after the debate that Rubio ‘had no choice but to go after me. He also claimed that insta-polls showed ‘he didn’t come close to winning. … I won every single poll for the debate.’
‘I think we had a great night. It was one of my better debate nights,’ he said.
And of Rubio: ‘But one thing I know of being an athlete: Once a choke artist, always a choke artist. You never get better.’
The 44-year-old boyish Floridian made move after move on Trump, hammering the man 25 years his senior on everything from his use of illegal immigrant labor to a defunct ‘Trump University’ that is now the subject of litigation from students who claim they were bilked.
Read more: Daily Mail