Real estate mogul Donald Trump came armed with endorsements, new and not so new, and he didn't hesitate to remind his audience about them.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in second place, just wanted to prove he's the best Republican man for the role of anti-Trump. Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich simply needed to prove they were still viable candidates.
The stakes were arguably highest for Rubio since Thursday night's GOP debate, held at the University of Miami, was in his home state of Florida. Its widely viewed as a make-or-break contest for a candidate who has to date won only in Minnesota and Puerto Rico, is next Tuesday.
The only person on the stage with as much at risk may have been Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman whose party is grappling with a growing rift over Trump's candidacy, which pundits have speculated may lead to a brokered convention.
"This party is going to support the nominee, whoever that is, 100%," Priebus said before the debate began. "Can we just agree that any of these four gentlemen would be a world better than Hillary Clinton or a socialist, Bernie Sanders?"
Trump, meanwhile, acknowledged his lack of support from some parts of the Republican Party while seeking to present his candidacy as an asset.
"Frankly the Republican establishment, or whatever you want to call it, should embrace what's happening," he said, describing his campaign as drawing people in their 50s, 60s and 70s who have never voted before and are doing so now "out of enthusiasm, for love."
Cruz wasn't feeling the love, directing several barbs -- though subtler than in recent debates -- at the candidate who's besting him. Trump is "right about the problems, but his solutions don't work," Cruz said.
Rubio also adopted a more statesman-like tone, or reverted to it, foregoing earlier potshots about Trump's hand size and on-camera makeup.
As for Trump's popularity, despite frequently incendiary remarks, Rubio conceded that he understands it. "He says what people wish they could say," Rubio noted, but presidents can't do that. "What they say has consequences."
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