Marco Rubio went after Donald Trump on his strongest issue at the debate Thursday night: illegal immigration. Rubio learned the risks of a direct attack on Trump.
Rubio attacked Trump for having undocumented workers from Poland work on construction at Trump Tower in Manhattan in the 1990s. Trump has denounced illegal immigrants as "rapists" during the campaign.
"Donald, you've hired a significant number of people from other countries to take jobs that Americans could have filled," Rubio said. "You're the only person on this stage that's ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally."
Trump quickly fired back, in part by citing the scope of his business experience and in part by attacking Rubio on completely unrelated grounds: "I've hired tens of thousands of people over my career. You've hired nobody. You've had nothing but problems with your credit cards."
Trump to Rubio: "Such a cute sound bite"
Rubio has been seen as vulnerable in the campaign because of his involvement in the "Gang of Eight" immigration bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented citizens. As Rubio returned to the line a little later to note that Trump had hired workers "from other countries instead of hiring Americans," Trump cut him off.
"Just be quiet. Let me talk," Trump said. "I've hired tens of thousands of people. He brings up something from 30 years ago."
Rubio brought up the question of Trump's hiring of undocumented workers again when Trump was asked how he would get Mexico to pay for the border wall, as he has so often claimed on the campaign trail.
"If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he'll be using illegal immigrant labor," Rubio said.
Trump responded by highlighting one of the critiques of Rubio's personality: that he's controlled by campaign operatives and unable to think on his feet.
"Such a cute sound bite," Trump said.