HOUSTON – Brawling from the get-go, a fiery Marco Rubio went hard after Donald Trump in Thursday night's Republican debate, lacerating the front-runner's position on immigration, his privileged background, his speaking style and more.
Ted Cruz piled on, too, questioning the front-runner's conservative credentials, as the two senators tag-teamed Trump in a debate that reflected the increasing urgency of their effort to take down the billionaire businessman before he becomes unstoppable. It was a rare night where the bombastic Trump found himself on the defensive.
The two-hours-plus debate played out as a raucous night of tit-for-tat insults, with candidates shouting over one another so much that it was hard to follow at times. The showdown came just days before the Super Tuesday 11-state round of mega-voting that could all but lock up the nomination.
When Trump faulted Rubio on a deal to buy a $179,000 house, the Florida senator shot back that if Trump "hadn't inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan."
In another rough exchange, Rubio accused Trump of shifting his position on deportation, hiring people from other countries to take jobs from Americans and being fined for worker violations. Joining in, Cruz criticized Trump for suggesting he alone had "discovered the issue of illegal immigration."
Trump shot back at Rubio: "I hired tens of thousands of people. You've hired nobody."
As for Cruz, Trump took a more personal tack, touting his own ability to get along with others and adding: "You get along with nobody. ... You should be ashamed of yourself."
Both Rubio and Cruz said that Trump had had to pay a $1 million fine for illegal immigration hiring.
The candidates were pressed on why they haven't released their tax returns as promised. The GOP's 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, suggested this week that Trump was holding back because there was a "bombshell" that would be revealed.
Trump said he's been audited by the IRS every year and can't release his returns while that's going on.
Rubio and Cruz both promised to release more of theirs in the next two days.
Rubio was the principal aggressor of the night, and he held nothing back. Taking on Trump's declaration that he'd build a wall on the Mexican border, Rubio declared: "If he builds a wall the way he built Trump Tower he'll be using illegal immigration to do it."
Trump, for his part, insisted that even though officials in Mexico have said they won't pay for his planned wall, "Mexico will pay for the wall." And he said that because Mexico's current and former presidents had criticized him on the issue, "the wall just got 10 feet taller."
Trump, known for his frequent use of coarse and profane language on the campaign trail, scolded former Mexican President Vicente Fox for using a profanity in talking about Trump's plan for the wall.
"He should be ashamed of himself and he should apologize," declared Trump.
After Trump mocked Rubio for his "meltdown" in a previous debate when the Florida senator repeated rote talking points, Rubio swatted right back, scolding Trump for spouting the same five things over and over: "Everyone's dumb.
He's going to make America great again. We're going to win, win, win. He's winning in the polls."
Trump was hardly silent, responding to both Rubio and Cruz: "This guy's a choke artist and this guy's a liar. ... Other than that I rest my case."
While Rubio was loaded for bear from the start, Cruz ramped up his criticism as the night wore on and argued that Trump wouldn't be an effective opponent against Hillary Clinton in the general election.
The finger-pointing extended to foreign affairs, with Cruz saying of Trump's plans to negotiate a solution to the Mideast conflict, "He thinks Palestinians are a real estate deal."
Making light of Cruz's repeated attempts to diminish him, Trump said: "Keep fighting, keep swinging, man, swing for the fences."
There was this back-and-forth after one particularly heated exchange:
Cruz to Trump: "Donald, relax."
Trump to Cruz: "I'm relaxed. You're the basket case."
The debate's location in Houston gave a nod to the primacy of Texas in the Super Tuesday voting: There are 595 delegates at stake, 155 in Texas.
The debate audience included former President George H.W. Bush, 91, and his wife, Barbara -- who missed out on the chance to see their son Jeb take part. He dropped out of the race after a poor showing in the first states to vote.
The other two remaining candidates, Ben Carson and John Kasich, were largely left to watch the fireworks flying overhead.
At one point, as the top three candidates mixed it up, Carson spoke up: "Can somebody attack me please."
Later, he complained, "I didn't get asked about taxes, I didn't get asked about Israel." When all five were asked about North Korea's president, he said, "We should make sure that he knows that if he ever shoots a missile at us it'll be the last thing he does."
Kasich, for his part, said he would try to find a way to effect regime change in North Korean but "perhaps the Chinese can actually accomplish that."
The Latest on the final Republican presidential debate before Super Tuesday:
Donald Trump is stressing that he's not a politician during his closing statement at Thursday night's GOP debate.
The billionaire businessman says in the last debate before the Super Tuesday contests that, "nobody knows politicians better than I do. They're all talk, they're no action, nothing gets done."
He says when it comes to issues like trade, building up the military, taking care of veterans and replacing the president's signature health care law, "I will get it done. Politicians will never ever get it done."
Marco Rubio says "the time for games is over." He closes the Republican debate in Houston much the same way he began it, by saying the election is about the future of the Republican Party.
He promotes his website and asks people to join him. He says the "silliness" and "looniness" of the primary must come to an end.
Ted Cruz used his closing statement at the GOP debate to remind voters ahead of next week's Super Tuesday contests of his vow to investigate Planned Parenthood and bring to an end "persecution of religious liberties."
He also promises to "rip to shreds" the nuclear deal with Iran and move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he hopes viewers of the final Republican presidential debate before Tuesday's Super Tuesday primaries see that executive experience matters.
Kasich is the last governor standing in the race for president, and he's promising that he will "hit the ground running and we will get America moving again."
Ben Carson used his closing argument before Tuesday's Super Tuesday contest to ask voters to join hands with him to implement change in America.
"A movie has been made about these hands," he said, referring to the film based on his autobiography, "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story."
The Republican presidential candidates say at their debate in Houston that Apple must comply with a court order to give federal authorities access to the phone used by one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters.
It's an order the technology company has resisted.
"They think it hurts their brand. Well, let me tell you, their brand is not superior to the United States of America," Marco Rubio says.
Ted Cruz says Rubio is now agreeing with a position that Cruz had taken earlier. "Apple should be made to comply," Cruz says.
He adds that Apple should not have to produce a key to unlock every phone, just the one at issue.
Donald Trump says he wouldn't advocate building a border wall with Canada like the one he wants along the U.S.-Mexico border, because America has more pressing problems.
Trump was asked if building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border but ignoring the Canadian one was like locking the front door of a house but leaving the back door open.
The billionaire businessman responded that the Canadian border was far larger than the one with Mexico. And he said that the northern border is "not our biggest problem."
Trump then repeated his promise to build a "very high, great" wall across the length of the United States' southern border.
He said it was not only people sneaking across it but the "drugs coming in" that presented national threats.
The freewheeling Republican presidential debate is turning into a battle of insults.
Standing center stage, Donald Trump is the target for Sen. Marco Rubio to his right and Sen. Ted Cruz to his left.
Trump is referring to Rubio as a "choke artist" and Cruz as a "liar."
At one point Thursday, all three were talking at the same time and hurling insults as moderators tried to regain control.
All the back and forth led Cruz to tell Trump to relax. Trump says in response, "I'm relaxed. You're the basket case."
Donald Trump says Libya would be "so much better off" if its late dictator Moammar Gadhafi were still leading the country.
Trump is defending himself at the Republican presidential debate against accusations from Ted Cruz that he was in favor of U.S. involvement in Libya.
Trump says he never discussed Libya but added that both Gadhafi and Iraq's deposed President Saddam Hussein should be commended because "they killed terrorists."
"I'm not saying they were good because they were bad. They were really bad," he says, but the Islamic State group has since grown out of the chaos and is "taking over (Libya's) oil."
"We would have been better off if the politicians took a day off instead of going to war," he says.
Ben Carson is once again complaining about the lack of attention he's getting at the GOP debate.
"People say that I whine a lot because I don't get time. I'm going to whine because I didn't get asked about taxes, I didn't get asked about issues," says Carson, who has yet to do well in any election this primary season.
Carson had been asked about how he'd deal with North Korea, but instead offered his thoughts on a litany of issues, saying he wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and espousing his support for Israel.
"Go ahead. This is your moment," says host Wolf Blitzer.
Apparently watching the Houston debate from afar, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is offering tax advice of sorts to Donald Trump.
Trump had said he can't release his tax records because he is under a "routine audit" by the Internal Revenue Service. He says he has been audited for a dozen years in a row.
Romney replies on Twitter, "No legit reason @realDonaldTrump can't release returns while being audited, but if scared, release earlier returns no longer under audit."
The Republican presidential candidates are debating about who among them is the biggest supporter of Israel.
At Thursday's presidential debate in Texas, Donald Trump touted himself as the most pro-Israeli person on the stage. He accused President Barack Obama of treating Israel "horribly,"
"I am a negotiator" Trump told rival Marco Rubio, telling him that his approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict "will never bring peace."
Rubio says that the Palestinians are promoting war with Israel to their children. He says that makes peace deal between the two sides impossible. He lashed out at Trump saying that "he thinks Palestinians are a real estate deal."
Ted Cruz says Donald Trump shouldn't be the Republican presidential nominee because he can't beat Hillary Clinton -- to which Trump shot back that he's the one racking up primary wins.
Assuming Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, Cruz said she will be able to duck questions about donations to her family's charitable foundation because Trump donated to it, too.
The Texas senator also lobbed the often-repeated criticism that Clinton attended Trump's wedding.
Trump responded that Cruz shouldn't talk about losing elections since "he lost in South Carolina so badly, that was going to be his stronghold."
Cruz started to respond, but Trump shot back, "Keep fighting, keep swinging man. Swing for the fences."
Trump added that if his chances against Clinton in November are bad, Cruz's are downright dismal.
Donald Trump says he's been audited by the Internal Revenue Service for the past 12 years, offering that as the reason he has not yet released his tax returns. He says he is again undergoing a "routine audit" this year.
Trump is responding to calls from 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney among others to make public his tax information, which is something presidential candidates traditionally do.
Romney put out his returns only a month and a half before the general election - something Trump pointed out at the debate. "Mitt Romney looked like a fool," Trump says.
Rubio and Cruz both say they are putting out their tax returns in the next few days.
"Donald says he's being audited. I would think that would underscore the need to release those returns," Cruz says.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is touting his own record of turning his state's budget deficit into a surplus. Kasich says he did it not only through budget cuts as rival Donald Trump has proposed, but also through economic diversification.
Speaking at Thursday's Republican debate in Texas, Kasich said that if elected president, he would bring to Washington a range of industries to spur economic growth and generate "jobs, jobs, jobs" within the first 100 days in office.
Trump pointed out that much of Kasich's successes have been due to oil discoveries in his home state.
But Kasich defended his record, dismissing the idea that a single-industry can lead to economic growth.
Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are sparring over the billionnaire businessman's previous comments about socialized medicine.
Cruz says at Thursday's GOP debate that, "for decades, Donald has been advocating socialized medicine."
Trump wrote in his 2000 book that Canada's single-payer health care system deserved examination. But he has since moved away from that position.
He now says, "I do not want socialized medicine, just so you understand."
Trump now says he wants to keep health care private, but nonetheless supports a public social safety net.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is channeling Chris Christie to attack Donald Trump in yet another raucous exchange at the Republican presidential debate.
Rubio came out on the losing end of a back and forth with the New Jersey governor in a previous debate where he slammed Rubio for repeating the same talking points.
But Rubio is using the same attack against Trump in Thursday's Republican debate, saying he is just repeating the same thing over and over throughout the entire campaign.
Rubio says Trump "says five things. Everyone's dumb. He's going to make America great again. We're going to win, win, win. He's winning in the polls."
The crowd erupted in cheers as the moderator tried to interject, and Trump and Rubio talked over one another.
Rubio has been jousting with Trump throughout Thursday's debate, trying to gain an edge on the billionaire who has won three states in a row.
Rubio says Trump is repeating himself when talking about his proposed solution for replacing President Barack Obama's health care law.
Trump is trying to deflect the attack, referencing Rubio's exchange with Christie in the earlier debate saying, "I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago."
But Rubio was quick with a zinger, saying, "I just watched you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago."
Marco Rubio is hitting rival Donald Trump for a lack of specifics in his health care plan.
Trump says that he plans to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's signature health care law if he's elected president.
But he has been vague on specifics beyond allowing insurance purchases across state lines and requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions.
Rubio asks Trump: "What is your plan?"
He adds, "This is not a game where you draw maps. What is your plan? What is your plan on health care?"
Moments earlier Rubio had said, "I will repeal it as president and we will replace it with something substantially better for all Americans."
Trump says his proposal would provide for many different plans with added competition to provide consumers more choices.
Donald Trump is doubling down on his measured defense of Planned Parenthood -- despite drawing fire from Republican rivals for doing so in the past.
Trump said at Republican debate in Houston, "You can say whatever you want, but they have millions of women going through Planned Parenthood that are helped greatly."
Trump has said he supports ending federal funding to Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions.
But at a previous debate, Trump said the group does more than just providing abortions and that some of what it does helps women.
Other Republican presidential candidates pounced on that sentiment, saying it shows Trump isn't a true conservative.
But all of that didn't stop Trump from making similar suggestions again Thursday night.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says when it comes to nominating "strict constitutionalists" to the Supreme Court, the Republican Party is "batting worse than .500" -- saying that more than half of those nominated by the GOP "have been a disaster."
By contrast, Cruz says Democrats nominate justices that vote "exactly how they want."
He says that a liberal justice would deprive the nation of religious liberties, undermine the right to life and "fundamentally erase" the right to bear arms from the constitution.
Cruz touted his own relationship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this month, and warned that the future of the court is now "hanging in the balance."
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump insists at the GOP presidential debate that he'll win the Hispanic vote in a general election, despite polls that show him deeply unpopular among that community.
Trump predicts that he'll do "really well with Hispanics" because they know he'll work to create jobs.
"They get it. They're incredible people, they're incredible workers," he says.
Trump also says that he's going to be expanding the GOP tent, bringing in Democrats and independents to build "a much bigger, much stronger Republican Party."
"We are building a new Republican Party. A lot of new people are coming in," he says.
He also dismisses a new poll from debate co-host Telemundo, saying, "I don't believe anything Telemundo says."
A moderator at the Republican presidential debate is questioning whether Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are missing an opportunity to embrace their Latino heritage by fighting about who is tougher on illegal immigration. Both are Cuban-American.
Cruz is the first Latino candidate to ever win a presidential primary contest - the Iowa caucuses this month. He agreed that his candidacy "really is an embodiment" of opportunities in the U.S.
He says there is a misperception that Latinos must all be liberals. "I am fighting so that everyone who is struggling in the Hispanic community and beyond will have a fair and even shake at the American dream," he says.
Rubio also says that President Barack Obama's policies are not working for Latinos. "We have to move past this sentiment that the Hispanic community only cares about immigration."
Rubio points to Carson, an African-American, as well as himself and Cruz and says, "I do think it's amazing. We are the party of diversity, not the Democratic Party."
Marco Rubio is defending his vow to cancel a program that protects the children of people living in the country illegally from deportation.
Addressing comments in made in Spanish in an interview with Telemundo, Rubio said he never changed his position on what's known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
He says it has to "end at some point," but added that it "wouldn't be fair" to cancel the program immediately.
Rubio says that people already enrolled in the program shouldn't be allowed to renew their application, and it should be closed to new applicants.
If elected president, he is vowing to eliminate the program, calling it "unconstitutional."
Donald Trump is promising at the Republican presidential debate that his planned border wall is getting taller -- and he's blaming Mexico.
Trump was asked about former Mexican President Vicente Fox declaring, "I'm not paying for that wall." Fox included a curse word when doing so.
Trump said that just ups the stakes and that he would insist, saying, "I will, and the wall just got 10-feet taller, believe me."
Amid suggestions that doing so could spark a trade war, Trump suggested that he had some experience with trade wars.
He added that trade deficits between the two nations means "we're losing" and that America had ground to make up on that front.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is removing any questions about whether he plans to take on Donald Trump in the latest Republican debate.
Rubio and Trump are exchanging sharp attacks and talking over the top of one another early in the last debate before 11 states vote on Tuesday.
Rubio is agitating Trump by saying that Trump wants to start a trade war with Mexico and China, countries where clothes are made under his name. Rubio says, "Why don't you make them in America?"
Trump is shooting back, "You don't know a thing about business."
Rubio fires back, "I don't know anything about bankrupting four companies."
That led to a raucous exchange between Rubio and Trump trying to talk over one another as the crowd cheered.
Rubio is also saying Trump wouldn't have had the business success he's had if he hadn't inherited $200 million. Trump says, "That is so wrong. I took $1 million and I turned it into $10 billion."
Credit the tag team of translators at Telemundo for being able to capture the testy exchanges among GOP candidates at the Republican debate.
The debate is being broadcast live by CNN and Telemundo, which has deployed a team of translators who are simultaneously translating the debate from English to Spanish.
It's no easy task tracking fast-talking candidates in words and tone, especially the back and forth between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio bickering about illegal immigration early in the debate.
"Callate. Dejame hablar," Trump's translator said at one point in a stern tone that reflected in Spanish what the billionaire businessman had tersely said in English to his younger rival. Trump's words in English: "Shut up. Let me talk."
Donald Trump says Ted Cruz "should be ashamed" that none of his Republican Senate colleagues have endorsed his campaign for president.
The New York billionaire said the Texas senator didn't have the backing of any senators "even though you work with these people. You should be ashamed of yourself."
Cruz responds that, "if you want to be liked in Washington, that's not a good attribute for being president."
Trump then likened Cruz to Robin Hood and reminding the audience that Cruz failed to disclose about $1 million in past campaign loans from Wall Street banks.
Ted Cruz is accusing rival Donald Trump of being late to the game on immigration.
Cruz says and the Republican presidential debate that while he was running for Senate and promising to lead the fight against what he calls amnesty, Trump was busy donating cash to a group of senators backing a path to citizenship.
Cruz says, "Where was Donald? He was firing Dennis Rodman on Celebrity Apprentice."
He adds, "When you're funding open border politicians, you shouldn't be surprised when they fight for open borders."
But Trump is hitting back, saying that he worked to build relationships with politicians on both sides of the aisle as a businessman.
"You get along with nobody," he tells Cruz, pointing to the fact that not a single Republican senator has endorsed him.
Donald Trump says at the Republican presidential debate that as president he would deport people living in the country illegally, but may allow some to eventually come back.
He says, "They have to come back through a process, and it may not be a quick process."
Ted Cruz rejects that idea, and says he does not believe it is fair to allow anyone who has come into the country illegally to come back. It's "a mistake to forgive those who break the law," he says.
He says such immigrants are causing job loss and driving down wages for citizens and people who immigrated legally alike.
Marco Rubio and Trump are also mixing it up on Trump's history of hiring immigrants who are in the country illegally to work on his properties.
Trump shot back that he's the only one on the stage who has hired people, period.
Here's a rundown of the opening statements of at the GOP presidential debate in Texas.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson says the United States is changing -- and not for the better. He says America would appear to be "heading off the abyss of destruction" were any one from 30 years ago be told about today's world.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is addressing young people in his opening state. He says, "You can do whatever you want to do in your life. America is an amazing country, where a kid like me can grow up to run for president."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio begins the debate by appealing to voters to decide not only what kind of country America is, but what kind of party the Republicans are. "We find out our identity as a party and as a movement," he says.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has welcomed the GOP debate field to his home state, drawing whoops from the crowd. The tea party favorite noted that as he now runs for president, even Democrats in Texas have told him: "I didn't vote for you, but you're doing what you said you'd do."
Donald Trump is promising to win, win, win if he's elected president. The billionnaire businessman says, "We don't win anymore as a country." He points to areas such as trade, health care, beating Islamic State militants and securing the U.S. southern border.
The Republican candidates for president are on stage at the final debate before Super Tuesday, and among those watching in the crowd is former President George H.W. Bush.
The 91-year-old Bush waved to the cheering crowd after being introduced by the debate moderator. He and his wife Barbara Bush and other family members are sitting with him in box seats.
This is the first GOP debate of this election season without Bush's second son, Jeb Bush. He dropped out of the race last weekend after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the South Carolina primary.
There's one last chance on the debate stage for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to slow Donald Trump's momentum before next week's Super Tuesday elections, and it's about to start.
The Thursday night debate in Houston takes place just a few days before 11 states hold GOP primaries that could cement Trump's dominance of the Republican race for president.
The billionaire businessman in on a three-state winning streak. Left standing on stage to challenge him are the two freshman senators, along with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Thursday's debate broadcast on CNN and Telemundo is the only one of the season steered to a Spanish-speaking as well as English-speaking audience, so immigration could be an issue on which the debate turns.
The race to the White House stopped in Houston Thursday as Republicans faced off at the University of Houston.
The five remaining candidates went toe-to-toe in a debate at Moores School of Music.
Security was tight on campus early Thursday morning as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and John Kasich got ready for the debate. Three of the presidential hopefuls began their push Wednesday.
More than 1,000 Harris County Republicans packed the Bayou City Event Center for the 2016 Lincoln-Reagan dinner Wednesday night. Both Cruz and Carson addressed the crowd.
Earlier, Rubio made his plea to Texas voters. Both Trump and Kasich released their itineraries for the day, but the timing for Thursday night's debate is important because it's the last one before Super Tuesday, when 12 states and one U.S. territory hold primaries or caucuses.
Analysts say that in the state of Texas, it's a no-brainer: If Cruz wins, it will put him in pretty good competition with Trump.
A Houston Public Media and UH Center for Public Policy poll shows that among likely voters in Texas, Cruz would get the most votes with 35 percent of support, while Trump is second at 20 percent.
Rubio is third with 8 percent, followed by Carson with 7 percent and Kasich with 4 percent.
Rubio is riding high after coming in second in Nevada's Republican caucuses this week. He and Cruz have been duking it out for second place.