6 Takeaways From Thursday's Republican Debate And then there were five. The remaining Republican candidates duked it out on CNN ahead of Super Tuesday — and it was a slugfest.

6 Takeaways From Thursday's Republican Debate

6 Takeaways From Thursday's Republican Debate

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Marco Rubio (left) and Donald Trump on stage at Thursday's GOP debate. David J. Phillip/AP hide caption

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David J. Phillip/AP

Marco Rubio (left) and Donald Trump on stage at Thursday's GOP debate.

David J. Phillip/AP

Ahead of Thursday's Republican debate, pundits agreed that someone — and Marco Rubio in particular — needed to attack Trump.

And in that sense, the debate didn't disappoint. Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took aim at the real estate mogul who is leading the GOP field heading into Super Tuesday. Trump is looking strong heading into a big day of nominating contests. Now, the question is whether his opponents' attacks mattered, and if they could at all still chip away at his support.

Here are six big takeaways from the final GOP debate before Super Tuesday.

1. Marco Rubio takes aim at Trump

One of the big questions since Trump has taken the GOP lead has been when Rubio would go on the attack. As it turns out, he did Thursday. The debate started with a question about candidates' positions on undocumented immigrants.

Rubio took the opportunity to take a swing at Trump for the fact that undocumented Polish workers helped build Trump Tower.


Trump responded by touting his business experience.

"I'm the only one on the stage who's hired people," Trump countered, to loud applause. He later added, "I've hired tens of thousands of people over at my job. You've hired nobody."

Rubio also referenced a recent New York Times investigation that found that Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida largely hired foreign guest workers, despite receiving many applicants from U.S. residents.

The fighting wasn't just about employment practices; the Florida senator dug in against Trump in a few other areas: the fact that four of Trump's companies have declared bankruptcy, as well as Trump's inheritance. If Trump hadn't inherited millions of dollars from his father, Rubio said, he'd be "selling watches in Manhattan." And when Rubio was later able to claim that Trump was repeating himself (the source of Rubio's woes in a past debate), he was rewarded with wild applause.

2. Can the GOP win Latinos?

The Republican party knows that appealing to the Latino community is key to winning in 2016. And so moderator Maria Celeste Arraras asked Texas Sen. Ted Cruz if he and Rubio, both of whom are of Latino heritage, should be doing more to reaching out to Latino voters. Both of them focused on the economy as the best way to do that.

Cruz said he would make sure that "everyone who is struggling in the Hispanic community and beyond will have a fair and even shake at the American dream."

Rubio said that it's all about the free market.

"I'm going to tell you that the most powerful sentiment in the Hispanic community, as it is in every immigrant community, is the burning desire to leave your children better off than yourself, and you can only do that through free enterprise," Rubio said.

Arraras then asked Trump about recent polls — including one from Telemundo — showing that the majority of Hispanics view him negatively.

Trump responded, "I don't believe anything Telemundo says," but then, minutes later, "I love them. I love them" (seemingly in reference to Telemundo).

But more importantly, it gave more context to the fact that, according to entrance polls, Trump won Hispanics in the Nevada caucuses this week. Those polls, as the Washington Post's Janell Ross points out, come from a small sample (and therefore have a wide margin of error), and only represent a small fraction of Nevada's Latino population, which has tended to vote heavily Democratic.

Trump insisted that he would bring some of those voters across party lines in a general election.

"I'm just telling you that I will do really well with Hispanics. I will do better than anybody on this stage," he said. He added, "But I'm telling you also, I'm bringing people, Democrats over and I'm bringing independents over, and we're building a much bigger, much stronger Republican Party."

3. Kasich claims the moderate lane

The debate kicked off with Trump and Cruz taking hard lines on immigration — Trump said he'd deport undocumented immigrants but let the "good ones" back in. Cruz praised Arizona's tough immigration laws. Rubio, meanwhile, added that he'd "secure the border" first.

When Ohio Gov. John Kasich got his chance to talk, he took a softer tone.

"I don't think we're going to tear families apart. I don't think we're going to ride around in people's neighborhoods and grab people out of their homes. I don't think — first of all, I don't think it's practical and I don't think it reflects America."

With the race largely being cast as a three-man competition these days, this is one way the Ohio governor is differentiating himself: a more moderate stance on some issues. When the topic of religious liberty came up again later, Kasich said that the Supreme Court has ruled on same-sex marriage and that he has "moved on."

"If you're in the business of commerce, conduct commerce. That's my view," he said. "And if you don't agree with their lifestyle, say a prayer for them when they leave and hope that they change their behavior."

4. Wolf Blitzer fact-checks Trump on his tax plan

Wolf Blitzer asked Trump to explain how his tax plan would work. That plan is an expensive one, with the potential to slash federal revenues by a stunning $9.5 trillion over 10 years (not counting economic effects), according to the Tax Policy Center, a left-leaning tax policy think tank.

Trump said a "dynamic economy" would help pay for his tax plan. However, the right-leaning Tax Foundation found that even with dynamic scoring (that is, taking into account potential economic effects), Trump's plan would cost $10.1 trillion over 10 years (with static scoring, they found it would be around $12 trillion).

Trump responded that he would "get rid of so many different things," like the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. Beyond that, he wasn't specific, saying he'd "cut many of the agencies" and "balance our budget."

But Blitzer was ready with numbers, pointing out that cutting those two offices would barely begin to pay for Trump's tax plan.

Trump responded that he'd cut "waste, fraud, and abuse."

This isn't important just because of Trump, though; the question of what to cut is also key for his competitors, as many of the candidates' tax plans have the potential to cut revenues by trillions of dollars.

5. This.

6 Takeaways From Thursday's Republican Debate

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Yes, Rubio went after Trump. But that's not the half of it. It was a night for fighting, with the leading candidates throwing constant punches to see what would land. Here's a minute from what may have been the most chaotic exchange of the evening.

6. It was the Trump show

Trump got by far the most talking time on Thursday night.
Meg Kelly/NPR

By NPR's count, Trump got by far the most talking time, with more than half an hour. The next-closest candidate, Cruz, was more than 10 minutes behind him.

Ben Carson, meanwhile, got 20 minutes less airtime than Trump did. And he made his irritation known. At one point, a fed-up Carson asked, "Can somebody attack me, please?"