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Republicans Debate Amid Party Split

US Republican Presidential candidates (L-R) Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich pose for a photo at start of the Republican Presidential Debate in Detroit on March 3, 2016Photograph by Geoff Robins—AFP/Getty Images

No. You were not hallucinating. Donald Trump really did just use the opening minutes of Thursday’s Republican debate to assure his supporters that he has an adequate penis.

The 2016 race for the GOP nomination has reached peak absurdity. And voters have only been casting ballots for a month.

The four remaining GOP contenders clashed in Detroit in a Fox News forum. From the start, it was clear the pile-on against Trump was going to be the central theme. In recent weeks, Trump’s rivals were lending their voices to the anti-Trump chorus. Mitt Romney and John McCain joined the fray in the hours before the debate.

Trump used the first minutes to respond with typical insult. He dismissed Romney as a loser and brushed off rival Marco Rubio’s criticism. He mocked Rubio for saying he had small hands and suggested it was an implied attack on his manhood.

“Look at those hands. Are they small hands?” he said. “I guarantee there is no problem.”

Trump continued with his typical tone. He called Rubio “this little guy” and twice called him “Little Marco.” Trump bragged about the impact of his Twitter account. He insisted he alone could defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He dismissed Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas as someone who cannot keep up with his crowds.

“I was a half million votes higher than him,” Trump said of Cruz. “I was a million votes higher than Marco. That’s a lot of votes.”

It left Rubio shaking his head. “He doesn’t have answers and he’s asking us to make him the President of the United States,” Rubio said.

Cruz, too, was left reeling as Trump promised to torture terrorists, blustered about immigration and bragged about his poll numbers. “Yelling and cursing at people doesn’t make you a tough guy,” the senator said. “We need a President who is rational, not someone who pops off.”

The debate follows an astonishing one-two punch from the Republican Party’s pair of most recent presidential nominees and an unprecedented effort to derail the party’s leading candidate to join their fraternity.

On Thursday, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and 2008 nominee John McCain urged fellow Republicans Thursday to reject billionaire Donald Trump and his front-running White House bid. Separately, dozens of foreign policy conservatives released a public letter urging Republicans to consider what a Trump administration would mean for foreign policy.

It was the most open rebuke of Trump and the style of politics that has perhaps given the New Yorker an irrevocable upper hand. It also might have been the day that fully separated the Republican Establishment from the party voters who have delivered Trump wins across the nation.

“If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” Romney said in Utah, encouraging voters to reject Trump in forthcoming contests.

Shortly after, McCain issued this statement: “I share the concerns about Donald Trump that my friend and former Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, described in his speech today.”

The foreign policy hands, who held senior posts in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, were more strident. “His equation of business acumen with foreign policy experience is false,” wrote the signatories, which included Ambassadors, Cabinet Secretaries and advisers. “Not all lethal conflicts can be resolved as a real estate deal might, and there is no recourse to bankruptcy court in international affairs.”

The pair joins others in their party in warning that a Trump nomination all but guarantees a Democratic winner. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell have both said their majorities in Congress cannot link arms with Trump, who at various points has refused to reject an endorsement from the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, has insulted women and has spread incorrect and fear-mongering attacks on minorities, Muslims and immigrants. Many parts of the Republican Establishment have been strident in opposing Trump, but it has not mattered.

That dynamic is set to play out dramatically Thursday night, as Trump’s remaining rivals for the nomination meet for a debate in Detroit. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas have been stepping up their criticism, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich continues to pitch himself as a sunny optimist who doesn’t play dirty—though he praised Romney’s comments Thursday.

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