DETROIT (AP) — Donald Trump replied to a dig from Republican presidential rival Marco Rubio about his sexual prowess with a crude sexual reference of his own at Thursday night’s GOP debate.
In the early moments of the first debate since Super Tuesday, the GOP front-runner noted that the Florida senator had mocked the size of his hands. ‘‘And you know what they say about men with small hands,’’ Rubio told a mostly college-aged audience at Roanoke College in Virginia last weekend.
Said Trump at the debate: ‘‘He hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I have never heard of this. Look at those hands. Are they small hands?’’
Holding them up to laughter among the crowd at the debate in Detroit, he continued: ‘‘If they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee.’’
It was a new level of nasty in a Republican campaign that’s become increasingly coarse in the past few weeks, as Trump has begun to emerge as the clear front-runner.
The exchange at the debate began after Rubio justified his attacks on Trump by saying the billionaire businessman had ‘‘basically mocked everybody’’ in the past year.
‘‘He has done so to people that are sitting on the stage today,’’ Rubio said. ‘‘He has done so about people that are disabled. He has done it about every candidate in this race.
‘‘So if there is anyone who has ever deserved to be attacked that way, it has been Donald Trump, for the way he has treated people in the campaign.’’
Trump countered with a mild effort at detente, saying he’d called Rubio a ‘‘lightweight’’ in the past, but ‘‘he’s really not that much of a lightweight.’’
‘‘So I would like to take that back,’’ Trump said. ‘‘He is really not that much of a lightweight.’’
Watch: Top moments from the Republican presidential debate