Sen. Marco Rubio still won’t take back the many attacks he launched at former rival Donald Trump when they faced off in the bitter presidential primary. But ahead of voting in Tuesday’s Senate primary in Florida, the freshman lawmaker is reluctant to alienate Trump’s supporters in a state the billionaire won by nearly 20 points.
“The primary is over,” Rubio told CNN in an interview Monday following a campaign appearance with veterans in Fort Myers. “Republican voters chose a nominee and we have a choice between two people … I do disagree with Donald on a number of things. I disagree with Hillary [Clinton] on everything.”
The balance Rubio is trying to strike is about more than Rubio’s political career. His success in November could be crucial to helping the GOP maintain its tenuous grip on the Senate.
In a sign of how far he’s moved, Rubio said he was open to campaigning with Trump in Florida if schedules allow. In campaign appearances, Rubio tells voters that the country “can’t afford” to elect Clinton. And despite his repeated denunciations of the businessman’s negative and personal tone on the trail, he refused to take Trump to task for recently calling Clinton a bigot.
“Democrats have been calling Republicans bigots for a long time,” Rubio said. “I think Hillary Clinton has a lot or problems. I think she’s corrupt, she’s dishonest, she lies constantly. She’s always in the center of some controversy.”
Pressed on the caustic characterization, Rubio said Trump would have to account for his own words.
“I do think some of the policies she stands for do harm minority communities, absolutely,” Rubio said. “I can tell you, I don’t want Hillary Clinton to be president.”
After he ended his presidential run, GOP officials — who were increasingly worried they were on track to lose the Senate to Democrats — successfully lobbied Rubio to reverse his pledge to quit the chamber. But even as he runs for another term, Rubio refused to commit to complete a new six-year term, a clear sign a presidential run in 2020 remains an option for the ambitious young politician.
“No one can make that commitment because you know now what the future is going to hold in your life personally or politically,” he said. “I can commit to you this, if I’m running to a be a US senator, I’m prepared to let the US Senate be the last political office that I ever hold.”
Rubio is part of a group of more than a half dozen Senate Republicans whose fate this November is in part linked to Trump’s. Republicans need the controversial candidate to stay competitive with Clinton to boost their chances of keeping control of Congress. They also need to court Trump’s passionate supporters as well as disillusioned establishment Republicans and independents who may be turned off by the GOP nominee.