Rubio, who was introduced to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” laid out a vision that included school choice and vocational education and leaned heavily on restoring America’s greatness, but the Gang of Eight member avoided any talk of immigration.
Earlier in the day, an immigration panel was greeted with a lukewarm response and a couple of shouts from the crowd calling it “politically correct.”
“My chances of winning the U.S. Senate were about as much as the chances of winning a papal conclave,” Rubio quipped.
He then launched into a retort of sorts, without directly mentioning it, of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comment.
“Our people have not changed,” Rubio said. “The vast majority of the American people are hard-working people who take responsibility for their families.”
“What’s changed is the world around us — the global economy is real. We don’t live in a national economy anymore,” he said, adding that the vast majority of Americans “don’t want to take away from people who have made it — but they wonder who is fighting for them.”
Rubio contended that focus on infighting within the conservative movement is “really a foolish notion.”
“I respect people that disagree with me on certain things; they have to respect me, too,” he said, citing gay marriage and abortion.
Rattling off problems ranging from middle-class jobs to monetary policy and healthcare reform, the senator urged CPAC to “not underestimate the impact that the breakdown of the American family is having.”
“You should be very concerned about student-loan debt,” he also said. “It is the next big bubble in America.”
Rubio framed the next big challenge, though, as not letting China overtake the United States as the world’s superpower. Citing the abysmal human rights record of the People’s Republic, he asked, “We want that to be the leading country in the world? That’s the stakes… the truth of the matter is don’t take this for granted.”
He said liberals complaints about him boil down to “he drank too much water,” and he’s not offering enough ideas.
“We don’t need an idea — the idea is America and it still works,” Rubio said, stressing countries around the world copy the U.S. and are emerging from poverty as a result.
“They may claim to hate us, but they sure would like to be us,” he added.
Senate Republicans on the Hill issued statements thanking Obama for the meeting today but stressing that distance remained on key issues.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t have lunch with him today,” Paul panned, then referenced his CPAC speech. “Maybe he’ll be able to see it on C-SPAN.”
(Don’t miss Next Generation’s members-only coverage of CPAC 2013 — featuring former Congressman Allen West and Michelle Fields. Click here to learn more.)