That was nerves. Less than an hour later, Rubio was landing strategic, gleeful blows, and Trump was flustered. Rubio's best line was the one about how if Trump hadn't gotten an inheritance, he'd be selling watches. But the one that grated on Trump the most was when he noted Trump's habit of repeating himself. Over that hour, it was like Rubio leveled up.
During that first flurry, it was clear which point Rubio thought would be the most effective. He repeatedly told viewers to Google "Trump Polish workers" or "Donald Trump Polish workers," so that people would read the details of a suit filed against the developer involving the construction of Trump Tower. That suit, which was eventually settled, accused Trump of knowingly employing and abusing illegal Polish immigrants to work on building the structure.
People went to Google. But what they were searching for was one of the other little punches Marco Rubio tossed into the mix: Trump University.
You can see the spike on the Google search chart here. It came during that first fight.
But you can see it more clearly below. When Ted Cruz mentioned it later in the debate -- more clearly landing his blows -- searches spiked even higher.
(The Polish workers didn't move the needle at all.)
The issue at hand is a lawsuit filed against Trump in regard to a "university" that carried his name. The Post's Emma Brown covered the story last year. Brown wrote:
Never licensed as a school, Trump University was in reality a series of real estate workshops in hotel ballrooms around the country, not unlike many other for-profit self-help or motivational seminars. Though short-lived, it remains a thorn in Trump’s side nearly five years after its operations ceased: In three pending lawsuits, including one in which the New York attorney general is seeking $40 million in restitution, former students allege that the enterprise bilked them out of their money with misleading advertisements.
As Cruz noted, Trump may be a witness when the case comes to court later this year.
Rubio's initial flurry was rushed and anxious, but it appears to have been a spaghetti-on-the-wall moment. What stuck? Trump University.