MILWAUKEE—For the second debate in a row, a rival brought the fight to Marco Rubio. And for the second debate in a row, the senator from Florida was the candidate who came out on top.
During the fourth Republican presidential primary debate here Tuesday night, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky went out of his way to criticize an ascendant Rubio on foreign policy, much like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did with Rubio's attendance record in the Senate two weeks ago in Boulder. But Rubio again appeared unfazed, effectively pushing back on an issue on which he is much more aligned with the GOP base than Paul.
In one of the more memorable moments of a relatively dry debate, hosted by the Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal, Paul launched a broadside against Rubio's tax and military-spending plan, calling it "not very conservative." Rubio was quick to retort.
"I know that Rand is a committed isolationist. I'm not," Rubio responded. "I believe the world is a stronger and a better place when the United States is the strongest military power in the world," he continued, drawing huge applause from the audience.
Paul forged on, asking how Rubio could possibly be "a conservative and be liberal on military spending." But even though he got in the last word on their exchange, the crowd's reaction highlighted how Paul is out of step with most Republican primary voters on the role the United States should play in foreign affairs, and how as Rubio rises in the polls and the minds of establishment Republicans, his competitors have yet to prove they can land a clean hit on him this primary season.