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GOP Free-for-All Gets Even Hotter in Texas

DALLAS (CN) - Blaming "dishonest" newspapers for "negative and horrible articles" about him, Donald Trump told a Texas crowd this weekend that he would "open up our libel laws" so he could sue newspapers "and win lots of money."

"I am going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles so we can sue them and win lots of money," Trump told a crowd of supporters in Fort Worth on Friday.

"We are going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece - which is a total disgrace - or when The Washington Post - which is there for other reasons - writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're protected."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1964 in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, that to prove defamation, public figures - people who thrust themselves into the public eye - must show the statements were published despite knowledge of their falsity, or with reckless disregard.

Montgomery Public Safety Commissioner L.B. Sullivan claimed that a paid ad in the Times defamed him with false statements about Montgomery police actions against civil rights protesters. Sullivan won a $500,000 judgment in state court, but the Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that the standard for public figures was necessary to preserve vigorous debate about subjects of public importance.

Although Trump could not override Times v. Sullivan, he would be able to appoint justices to the Supreme Court, if he wins the Republican nomination and the presidential election.

"We are going to have people sue you like you have never been sued before," Trump told the crowd.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia hedged on the Times v. Sullivan ruling in a 2011 speech. Republican senators have vowed not to call a hearing on any nominee President Obama chooses to replace Scalia.

In his speech at the Aspen Institute 2011 Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum, Scalia said: "Now, the old libel law used to be (that) you're responsible, you say something false that harms somebody's reputation, we don't care if it was told to you by nine bishops, you are liable.

"New York Times v. Sullivan just cast that aside because the court thought in modern society, it'd be a good idea if the press could say a lot of stuff about public figures without having to worry. And that may be correct, that may be right, but if it was right it should have been adopted by the people. It should have been debated in the New York Legislature and the New York Legislature could have said, 'Yes, we're going to change our libel law.' But the living constitutionalists on the Supreme Court, the Warren Court, simply decided, 'Yes, it used to be that ... George Washington could sue somebody that libeled him, but we don't think that's a good idea anymore.'"

Trump's threat to "open up" libel laws was quickly overshadowed by his refusal to disavow an endorsement from white supremacist and former Klan leader David Duke. When criticized even by fellow Republicans for that, Trump backpedaled on Sunday, saying he didn't know who Duke was, then sent a Tweet saying "I disavow."


That flurry of controversy quickly buried an aggressive Friday attack from Marco Rubio, who called Trump a " con man " who may have wet his pants during the Republican candidates' debate Thursday night.

Sen. Rubio, R-Florida, told supporters at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas that Trump had a "meltdown" backstage during the Thursday night commercial breaks.

"He has called me Mr. Meltdown. Let me tell you something ... he had this little makeup thing and applying makeup around his mustache, because he had one of those sweat mustaches," Rubio said with a grin. "He then asked for a full-length mirror. I do not know why because the podium goes up [to his chest]. Maybe to make sure his pants were not wet, I do not know."

Several hundred Rubio supporters rumbled with laughter at the 10-minute attack that at times sounded like a comedy roast.

Donald Harris, of Dallas, said he was a Jeb Bush supporter until Bush dropped out of the race. Harris said he liked how Rubio was "taking it" to Trump now.

"Jeb was too timid and too slow in fighting back," Harris said at the Friday rally. "I like how Rubio kept jabbing at him last night and I'm glad to see he isn't backing down today."

One hundred fifty-five Republican delegates are at stake on Super Tuesday in Texas, which is seen as a must-win state for Sen. Ted Cruz.

But it's Rubio who's increasingly seen as so-called establishment Republican's last chance against Trump. Party regulars were energized by Rubio's vigorous attacks on Trump past week, mocking his history of hiring illegal immigrants and being sued repeatedly for his so-called Trump University.

Rubio kept the heat on Friday in Dallas. "Friends do not let friends vote for con artists," he said as the crowd cheered.

Holding a smartphone onstage, Rubio asked if the crowd wanted to "have some fun," then mocked Trump's poor spelling and grammar in his Twitter posts.

"Trump said, 'Wow, every poll said I won the debate last night.' No, this is what he said about himself, OK? He said 'Great honer.' I think he meant to say 'great honor.' I do not know how he got that wrong because the e and the o are nowhere near each other on the keyboard. This guy tweets so badly, I can only reach two conclusions. Number 1, that's how they spell those words at the Wharton School of Business where he went. Or number 2, just like at Trump Tower, he must have hired a foreign worker to do his own tweets."

Thirty miles west in Fort Worth, Trump supporters in line at the Fort Worth Convention Center cheered the news that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has endorsed Trump.

Saying he was "proud" to endorse Trump, Christie said: "He is a good friend, he is a strong and resolute leader and he is someone who is going to lead the Republican Party to victory in November against Hillary Clinton, which is the single most important thing we can do."

Trump then turned his attention to Rubio, saying he was "under a pile of makeup" at the latest debate.

"I said 'Marco, easy with the makeup,' you do not need that much," Trump said. Then he praised Christie for going after Rubio's rehearsed lines and talking points in earlier debates.

"I thought he was going to die," Trump said. "Good going, Chris."

Speaking to several thousand of his supporters, Trump again mocked Rubio's excessive sweating while taking a sip from a water bottle.

"Oh look, it's Marco," Trump said before spilling the bottle's contents on stage, then tossing the bottle over his shoulder as the crowd cheered.

He called Rubio a "lightweight senator from Florida who is losing in the polls."

Outside the rally, several shouting matches erupted between white Trump supporters and protesters.

An unidentified white man in a purple shirt and sunglasses yelled "Go back to Mexico" several time to a Latina protester who screamed profanities as he walked into the rally.

Inside the building, several protesters were escorted out of the rally after holding up signs saying Trump is anti-Muslim.

Follow @davejourno
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