Can Marco Rubio's debate performance make him the man to take down Donald Trump?

Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz went head to head before Super Tuesday

Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Republican

Image: David J. Phillip / AP/Press Association Images

Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz took to the stage in the final Republican debate before Super Tuesday, and it was Trump's turn to be on the back foot.

The billionaire has come out as the front runner after wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and found himself as the target for both Rubio and Cruz throughout the debate

Trump faced particular criticism over his immigration policy, as well as his record on hiring illegal immigrants for construction projects.

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With polls suggesting that Rubio is trailing Trump in his home state of Florida, coupled with a poor performance in the debate ahead of the New Hampshire primary, he may have been prompted into a more aggressive display this time around. 

The candidates exchanged insults as Rubio questioned Trump's business expertise, stating that he bankrupted four companies and inherited $200 million dollars from his family. Trump responded by reiterating that Rubio had a "meltdown" on stage as he repeated himself several times, but the Florida senator managed to get his own back on that front. 

With Trump fighting on both sides to defend his policies, this was one of the first times that he had to battle against a sustained attack from the other candidates in the race, with a particular concentration on his policies. 

Rubio, as the leader when it comes to party endorsements, needs a boost in momentum as they head towards Super Tuesday, which could have a big impact on the outcome of those primaries. Trump is currently forecast to have a very good day, meaning that a big shift is needed to slow his momentum down.

Much has been written and spoken about when it comes to the "ceiling" that Trump has; as a candidate that has proven to be unlikable in polls, the party is looking for someone that could swing moderates, and don't think the former reality television star is their man.

Cruz's flagging momentum (he is only polling well in his home state of Texas) and Bob Dole's recent comments that he was widely disliked in the corridors of power in Washington means the party is likely to get behind Rubio, provided he stands a realistic chance of winning. 

To do that, he needs to claim some states on Super Tuesday and prove that the promise he has shown so far in doing better than expected in Iowa and garnering a large number of endorsements translates into tangible delegates. 

Trump's discourse is based around winning, and so far he has backed that up; he has secured 82 delegates to Rubio's 16. Unless the Florida junior senator can start to eat into that lead on Tuesday, last night's impressive debate performance may be too little, too late.