There was a time when GOP presidential contenders not named Jeb Bush shied away from attacking Donald Trump. That time is over.
Trump has never had much of a filter. The filter really comes off when he’s attacked by a political opponent. Bush took the brunt of those attacks during the holiday season debates and early primary contests, mostly because he was the candidate most directly attacking Trump.
But with Trump’s sizable lead in national polls proving to be real (and in some ways, increasingly insurmountable), Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were forced to take the gloves off at Thursday’s debate in Houston. And the candidates weren’t just going after each other on policy; with Super Tuesday looming, the onstage gibes turned downright personal.
It took a few questions for Trump to warm up — almost as if he was waiting for attacks from both sides of the stage — but once he did, the insults flew thick and fast. Rubio said Trump would be “selling watches in Manhattan” if not for the large inheritance he received, and he got in one of the best taunts of the night when he called Trump out for repeating himself (with a silent shout-out to Chris Christie for the assist). Cruz said Trump could “go back on his meds.”
Trump dished out his fair share of barbs, at one point saying, “This is great, I'm having fun.” And his insults didn’t stop when the debate did. “We have to have somebody that doesn’t sweat,” Trump said of Rubio on CNN after the debate ended, referring to Rubio’s propensity for perspiration. “We need to have somebody that doesn’t have whatever it is that he’s got.”
While the other candidates were forced to go after Trump, The Donald himself probably doesn’t have a lot of complaints about the tone of the debate. It’s less time he has to spend on policy (something he was called out for on more than one occasion in Houston), and besides, more arguments and more insults simply seem to fire his base up.