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First Read: Cruz and Rubio's last stand to stop Trump

Thursday's Republican debate is an Alamo-like last stand of sorts for both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio pause in honor of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia before the start of the Republican presidential debate, Feb. 13, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio pause in honor of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia before the start of the Republican presidential debate, Feb. 13, 2016. 

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Cruz's and Rubio's last stand to stop Trump

Tonight's Republican presidential debate is in Houston, but as NBC's Hallie Jackson has suggested, San Antonio would have been a more fitting location -- given that the debate is an Alamo-like last stand of sorts for both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. It's why tonight and this coming Tuesday is a last stand for Cruz: He has to win his home state to stay alive in the GOP contest. But it's a last stand for Rubio, too: Can he afford to ignore Trump and cede Super Tuesday to the GOP frontrunner as time starts to run out? Many Republicans and plenty of GOP donors will be watching tonight's debate and asking: "If you aren't tough enough to take on Trump, are you tough enough to take on Hillary Clinton?" Call it the Christie debate hangover. As Ross Douthat writes, "There isn't going to be a long wintry war of attrition against Trump for Rubio; the time for that is gone. Instead, after Super Tuesday, assuming that Rubio does edge Cruz consistently, he'll have to beat Trump in two pitched battles — the Detroit and Miami Republican debates, on March 3 and March 10. And he'll have to do so in the shadow of screaming headlines that stress, not delegate counts, but Trump's overall winning streak." Of course, as we remember from our Texas history, the side that made the Alamo a last stand -- and was defeated -- still won the war in the end.

WaPo editorial page calls out GOP leaders: "You must do everything in your power to stop Trump"

We don't know what Cruz and Rubio will do regarding Trump, but the Washington Post editorial page absolutely unloads on the GOP frontrunner and the Republican Party. The headline: "GOP leaders, you must do everything in your power to stop Trump." Inside the piece: "Absent an extraordinary effort from people who understand the menace he represents, Donald Trump is likely to be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. At this stage, even an extraordinary effort might fall short. But history will not look kindly on GOP leaders who fail to do everything in their power to prevent a bullying demagogue from becoming their standard-bearer." Interestingly, we saw Mitt Romney make an effort to ding/troll Trump. But here's the thing: To stop Trump, you can't just engage in a drive-by shooting -- the attacks must be sustained. And so far, no Republican entity has been able to sustain a campaign against Trump of any kind.