Last night Marco Rubio finally took on Donald Trump in Houston. (More)

“This guy’s a choke artist”

Maybe it was the white supremacist robocalls that said “Don’t vote for a Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump.” Or maybe it was the poll that shows Trump leading in Rubio’s home state of Florida. Regardless, Rubio went on the attack in last night’s WHannabe WHinefest:

In a series of acid exchanges, a newly pugnacious Mr. Rubio, long mocked for a robotic and restrained style, interrupted Mr. Trump, quizzed him, impersonated him, shouted over him and left him looking unsettled. It was an unfamiliar reversal of roles for the front-runner, who found himself so frequently the target of assaults from Mr. Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz that he complained they must have been a ploy for better television ratings.

From the opening moments of the debate, Mr. Rubio pounced. Deploying his own up-by-the-bootstraps biography, the Florida senator assailed Mr. Trump for hiring hundreds of foreign workers at his tony resort in Florida and passing over Americans who had applied for the same jobs.

“My mom was a maid in a hotel,” Mr. Rubio said. “And instead of hiring an American like her, you’ve brought over 1,000 people from all over the world to fill in those jobs instead.”

Moments later, Mr. Rubio moved to cast Mr. Trump as a huckster who outsourced the manufacturing of the clothing that bears his name to countries like Mexico and China even as he promised to wage a trade war against those countries.

When Mr. Trump tried to protest, Mr. Rubio interrupted right back.

“Make them in America!” he demanded.

As you might expect, Trump offered a thoughtful, well-reasoned discourse on trade policy. Yeah, as if:

“This guy’s a choke artist,” Mr. Trump declared, pointing to Mr. Rubio. “This guy’s a liar,” he said, swiveling toward Mr. Cruz.

“I’m the only one on the stage that’s hired people”

Again and again, Rubio bored in on Trump’s checkered business history:

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.

Again and again, Trump spoke at length about the comparative merits of domestic and foreign workers. Or not:

“No, I’m the only one on the stage that’s hired people,” Trump shot back. “You haven’t hired anybody.”

Rumors that popcorn stocks surged on overnight orders have yet to be confirmed.

“The other is that nobody does”

This comes amidst news that the Rubio campaign are already laying plans for a contested GOP convention:

Marco Rubio’s campaign is preparing for a contested Republican Convention as one option to take the GOP nomination away from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, his campaign manager told top donors at a closed-door meeting in Manhattan Wednesday night.

As Rubio scrambles for support ahead of Super Tuesday, Terry Sullivan, Rubio’s top adviser, used a Power Point presentation and took questions from attendees to lay out the two courses that Rubio’s quest for the GOP nomination could take in the coming months, two people present told CNN, speaking anonymously to share details from a private meeting.
[…]
Sullivan gave a “technical” explanation of how a contested or brokered convention would work. According to the sources in the room, the gathering appeared to be a matter-of-fact recognition by the Rubio campaign that a contested convention is very much a possibility.

“One is somebody – Trump or Rubio – wins enough primaries to sew up the nomination in advance of the convention,” one attendee said. “The other is that nobody does, and the two candidates go to the convention.”

Why thank you, Captain Obvious.

“Will live on in highlight reels forevermore”

The New York TimesFrank Bruni thinks Rubio may have gone too far:

Almost each of his attacks on Trump made good sense. All were entirely fair. But as they piled up higher than even the most majestic Trump-envisioned border wall could ever reach, he came across as strident, mocking, condescending, bratty.

And it was impossible not to wonder if he was doing precisely what Chris Christie had when he tried to take Rubio down in the debate just before the New Hampshire primary: bloodying his adversary at a cost of seriously wounding himself.

He talked over Trump. Trump talked over him. He talked louder over Trump. Trump talked even louder over him. There was one extended exchange, with each of them accusing the other of being more robotic and programmed, that will live on in highlight reels forevermore.

“Now he’s repeating himself,” Rubio pointed out, referring to Trump.

“I don’t repeat myself,” said Trump.

“You don’t repeat yourself,” Rubio responded – disbelievingly, facetiously.

And so it went. Rubio’s hectoring melody overlapped Trump’s exasperated harmony.

But when music gets that ugly, everyone involved can wind up sounding equally bad.

And therein lies the modern media’s most glaring problem. If anyone attacks Trump’s record – Rubio and/or Cruz in the GOP primaries, Clinton or Sanders in the general election – Trump will respond with bullying. If the challenger continues the attack, Trump will escalate the ugliness … and Faux Balance pundits will lament about both sides “sounding equally bad.”

That is, pardon the pun, The Donald’s Trump card.

“This is malpractice on a grand scale”

The Huffington Post offers an interesting piece on why the other WHannabes didn’t even bother to gather ammunition on Trump:

It’s no secret that rival campaigns were caught off guard by Donald Trump’s ascent in the Republican primary. But the extent to which they are still left scrambling to prevent him from becoming the nominee – on the eve of the crucial Super Tuesday primaries – is alarming many Republicans and astonishing rival Democrats.

Multiple Republican campaign sources and operatives have confided that none of the remaining candidates for president have completed a major anti-Trump opposition research effort. There are several such efforts being run by outside conservative organizations. But those efforts are still gathering intel on the businessman after having started late in the primary season, these sources told The Huffington Post. And they worry that it may come too late.

“It is one of the many ways we underestimated him, I suppose,” conceded one top Republican campaign official whose candidate has since exited the race.

Well duh. I guess they were too busy building binders full of Benghazi. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum sums it up nicely:

Holy sh–t. This is malpractice on a grand scale. With all the money sloshing around the primary, nobody could manage to find a few million bucks to put together a professional ratf–king operation? Republicans really are losing their mojo.

As the HuffPo article notes, the Clinton campaign have reams of Trump research ready, and Republicans haven’t yet touched 80% of it. Call it … a contrast in competence.

+++++

Photo Credit: Pool (Getty Images)

+++++

Good day and good nuts