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Cruz and Rubio take on Trump in key Republican debate

The last Republican sparring contest ahead of the "Super Tuesday" primaries saw all guns firing on Donald Trump. The mogul was able to hold his ground against the angry rivals.

The fear among the Republican Party that Donald Trump is likely to be their presidential candidate was clear on Thursday night as his two main rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio slammed the real estate magnate. The final match-up before the "Super Tuesday" series of primary elections saw lesser candidates Ben Carson and John Kasich fade into the background as Cruz and Rubio assaulted Trump on everything from his conservatism to his business record.

Rubio, the Florida Senator seen as

the most mainstream prospect

, used the debate hosted by CNN in Houston to attack the party frontrunner for flip-flopping on immigration. Trump, who has famously called for a fence along the US border with Mexico, once supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants, Rubio claimed.

The mogul also "hired a significant number of people from other countries to take jobs that Americans could have filled" in his development projects, Rubio said. The senator pointed to a newspaper articles about a lawsuit launched by a workers union against Trump in the 1980s for having allegedly hired 200 illegal Polish immigrants to build New York's Trump Tower.

"I've hired tens of thousands of people," Trump shot back, "You haven't hired one person, you liar."

Cruz: Trump can't best Clinton

Texas Senator Ted Cruz focused on Trump's former friendliness with the Democratic party, pointing out how he had donated to several of their election campaigns, including Hillary Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter.

"We can't win this election with a candidate who agrees with Hillary Clinton and can't take it to her and beat her on the debate stage and at the polls," Cruz warned the Republican base.

He added that Trump could not be trusted to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court: "Nobody who supports far-left liberal Democrats who are fighting for judicial activists can possibly care about having principled constitutionalists on the court."

Trump retorted by calling the Texan a "basketcase" and for nearly a minute the debate devolved into a shouting match as the candidates ignored the debate moderators.

There is immense pressure on Cruz and Rubio to derail the billionaire's

seemingly unstoppable march to the party's candidacy

as his confident, mocking style has won over an increasingly diverse share of Republicans fed up with politics as usual.

es/rc (AP, AFP)

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