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FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidates, from left, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich debate take part in the Republican presidential primary debate at the University of Houston in Houston. Nancy Reagan spent decades protecting the legacy of her husband, but some of President Ronald Reagan's famous political advice appears lost among the White House candidates who embrace him as a guiding light. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidates, from left, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich debate take part in the Republican presidential primary debate at the University of Houston in Houston. Nancy Reagan spent decades protecting the legacy of her husband, but some of President Ronald Reagan's famous political advice appears lost among the White House candidates who embrace him as a guiding light. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)  ((AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File))

‘A court in Miami’

On the topic of U.S. relations with Cuba, Marco Rubio clashed with Donald Trump.

Asked if he was in favor of changed relations with the island nation, Rubio said, “I would love relations to change, but that would require the Cuban government to change.”

Since the thaw between the U.S. and Cuba in late 2014, Rubio said, “Nothing has changed for the Cuban people. In fact, things are worse now than before this diplomatic opening … [Pres. Obama] asked nothing in return, and we got nothing in return.”

He later said that U.S.-Cuba relations wouldn’t be fully normalized until “Cuba has free elections. Cuba takes all those fugitives from justice – including that cop-killer [Joanne Chesimard] from New Jersey – and sends them back.”

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Trump mentioned that Cuba has asked for billions of dollars in reparations from the U.S. over the embargo, but it was Rubio’s response that garnered the largest applause of the partisan South Florida crowd.

“I don’t know where Cuba would bring this lawsuit,” Rubio said, “but if they sue us in a court in Miami, they are going to lose.”

Tax and trade talk gets heated

A relatively mild debate spiced up – a little – when Ted Cruz and Donald Trump sparred over their ideas for tax and trade.

Trump argued that the current U.S. trade deals with places like Japan and China – he left out Mexico, for once – were “absolutely killing our country” and that a 45 percent tax on imports is right now just threat, but it will be a tax “if they don’t behave.”

Cruz retorted by saying that it won’t be China that will be harmed by the tariff, but the “working men and women who pay the tax.”

Ted Cruz, in replying to Trump, said that he wasn’t the first politician to argue that case.

Then he cited the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. The last time that obscure bit of trade history proposed by two long forgotten pols (Senator Reed Smoot of Utah and Representative Willis C.Hawley of Oregon) was the 1984 movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” in which a high school history teacher played by future presidential candidate, Ben Stein, mentioned it while boring a class full of students to tears. Or drool.

A softer tone on immigration

For the first time this presidential campaign season, the Republican hopefuls neither yelled at nor accused each other of being soft on immigration.

It was a little, well, weird.

Instead the four candidates on the stage in Coral Gables, Florida, laid out their plans for what to do with topics from the H-1B visas to a path to citizenship.

“We need to redefine our legal immigration system so it meets the needs of America,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said. “We’re going to build a wall, triple border patrols and end sanctuary cities.”

He added: “We need an immigration system that benefits the American people.”

Donald Trump, who more than anyone has brought immigration to the forefront of the Republican debate, said that even though he benefits as a businessman from the H-1B visas, he would do away with them because they put American workers out of jobs.

Marco Rubio suggested that the way in which green cards and temporary worker visas are doled out should be changed. “We need to move to a merit-based system,” he said.

Florida: Marco Rubio’s Last Hope

Florida – specifically South Florida, where tonight’s Republican debate is taking place – was supposed to be a lock for Sen. Marco Rubio after the state’s former Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out of the presidential campaign.

But the latest polls have Rubio down 23 points to front-runner Donald Trump in the Sunshine State, and critics are saying that if he doesn’t come in first in the March 15 primary, his presidential hopes are over.

Rubio, who was groomed in the political hotbed of South Florida, is hoping that the area’s Cuban-Americans – along with other conservative Latino groups in other parts of the state, will help propel him to victory and back into contention.

If not, the GOP contest will have narrowed down to a dogfight between Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

That’s why there’s a lot riding on Thursday night’s debate for the Rubio camp – a strong performance could help him win over undecided voters, while a poor performance could doom his campaign before the votes are even cast.

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