DALLAS — For the first eight minutes of his final pre-Super Tuesday rally in Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) ditched one of the tightest stump speeches in politics and hurled a luxury tower's worth of kitchen sinks at Donald Trump. He mocked his age. He claimed "every" Trump business had gone bankrupt.
"He called me Mr. Meltdown," said Rubio, deriding the botched spelling of Trump's post-debate tweets. "Let me tell you, during one of the breaks — two of the breaks — he went backstage. He was having a meltdown. First he had this little makeup thing, applying makeup around his mustache, because he had one of those sweat mustaches. Then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don't know why, because the podium goes up to here. Maybe he was making sure his pants weren't wet. I don't know."
Rubio's crowd, the first to hear this extended routine, rumbled with laughter. But not every Trump insult landed. Like he had in the debate, Rubio appeared to shake a folder of opposition research until it was emptied, rattling off vanished Trump brand ventures ("You ever heard of Trump Vodka?") and suggesting he was almost uniquely horrible at being a businessman.
"This guy bankrupted a casino," said Rubio. "How do you bankrupt a casino?"
Some of Rubio's lines had been previewed to donors Thursday and deployed on Monday morning TV hits. The overall theme of the Trump assault is that the front-runner is a "con artist," a man with no business leading the Republican Party.
"It's time to pull his mask off so that people can see what we're dealing with here," said Rubio. "He runs on this idea that he's fighting for the little guy, but he's spent his entire career sticking it to the little guy. His entire career!"
Rubio's audience, which waited for the candidate to overcome a flight delay, brimmed with praise for his debate performance.
"I was clapping so loud that my husband told me: 'Enough already!' " said Minda Moore, 62, a commodities trader in Dallas. "I loved that line about how he'd have been selling watches in Manhattan if he hadn't inherited money. It's so true."
In Dallas, Rubio resurrected that line and added another job for the parallel universe's Trump: "He'd be in one of those infomercials where he's trying to flip properties."
Paul Breitzman, 64, said that Rubio had finally figured out a way to dismantle Trump, something that had evaded every other Republican candidate.
"Trump's a clown, but 'clown' doesn't mean stupid," said Breitzman. "A clown's clever enough to distract you while he's pulling a rabbit out of his butt."
The only relevance of Trump, concluded Rubio, was that a pliant media wanted him to win the Republican nomination and lose to Hillary Clinton. And when the anti-Trump missiles had all been fired, Rubio moved right into his stump speech — optimistic, forward-looking, with no more mentions of his competition and plenty of references to the values instilled by his immigrant family.
"We need a president who loves all the American people — even the ones who don't love you back!" said Rubio.