Fresh from a tag team attack on front-runner Donald Trump, primary opponents Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz spent Friday hoping to use new debate momentum to cut into Trump’s commanding lead ahead of the Super Tuesday contests.
Rubio, in particular, ramped up the rhetoric Friday, calling Trump a “con artist” in numerous live appearances and poking fun at the billionaire candidate’s tweet misspellings and behavior at Thursday’s raucous debate.
In an interview with Bret Baier on Fox News' "Special Report," he accused Trump of being a "con man" at least three times and also called him "a clown," adding, "it's time to take the mask off this guy."
He also predicted that if Trump were to be nominated to head the GOP ticket, "the Republican party would split apart...he's a dream for the Democrats."
Earlier, in a fundraising letter to to supporters Thursday, Rubio said, “In last night's debate, America saw firsthand that Donald Trump can't even talk about, let alone do anything about, the dire problems facing our nation."
“Donald Trump is a con artist trying to hijack the conservative movement and the Republican Party, and he cannot be our nominee.”
Cruz took to Twitter on Friday, also mocking Trump’s debate performance -- particularly on the issue of ObamaCare -- and pointing out that while he was in the Senate wrestling over illegal immigration, Trump was “firing @dennisrodman on TV,” referring to the ex-NBA star’s participation on Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice.”
In a gaggle with reporters that afternoon, he stressed that he is in a better position than Rubio to beat Trump.
"(I am) the only candidate that has beat Donald Trump and can beat Donald Trump," he said, assuring "we will come out of Super Tuesday seeing a meaningful difference in the delegation allocation. He proceeded to blast Trump on reports that his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach has a reputation for passing over American workers for foreign visa holders.
Cruz later described Trump as very close ideologically to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton, is a rich New York liberal," Cruz told Fox News' Sean Hannity.
For his part, Trump sought to trump any debate bounce the two senators were enjoying by rolling out an endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Trump then spoke at a rally in Texas, where he took multiple jabs at Rubio’s age (“He looks like a little boy”) his ears, what he said was his make-up job at the debate, and his sweat glands (“I thought he just came out of a swimming pool”).
Trump also took to Twitter Friday morning and labeled Rubio a “lightweight” who “lacks the temperament to be president.”
Rubio then took to the stage to point out that Trump had misspelled “lightweight” and “choker” in his tweets. “He calls me a little boy … he’d be the oldest president of the United States,” he said while the audience in Oklahoma City cheered. He was introduced to the stage by Sen. James Inofe, R-OK., who endorsed Rubio in January.
Cruz announced that he will be appearing with conservative talk show host Glenn Beck in Little Rock, Ark., on Saturday.
The next contest for the Republican nomination are the coveted Super Tuesday contests on March 1, with 595 delegates up for grabs from nearly a dozen states.