NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) vowed today to defeat Donald Trump in his home state “the way we beat Charlie Crist” — by stressing that he’s far from a conservative.
Rubio, who is suffering from the flu, addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference before flying to Puerto Rico for an evening campaign rally.
He reminisced on his 2010 Senate election, in which he pushed Crist out of the primary and defeated Crist in the general election after the Florida governor tried running for the seat as an independent.
Echoing what some pundits and opponent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have said about his campaign, Rubio noted that back then many said “there was no path forward” for his Senate hopes.
“The only people who thought I would win all lived in my home,” he quipped.
Rubio stressed that the election in 2016 is “no longer simply a choice between political parties or even ideologies,” but “what kind of country is this going to be in the 21st century.”
“Being a conservative can never be simply about an attitude,” he added, or “how long you’re willing to scream… or how many names you’re willing to call people.”
“Conservatism has never been about fear or about anger, not at its best.”
Rubio acknowledged voters have “a right to be angry,” but “neither anger nor fear will solve our problems.”
Conservatism, the senator stressed, is built on the principle that “our rights do not come from government; our rights come from God.”
“Conservatism is not built on personalities,” he added. “It is not simply built on how angry you may seem from time to time.”
“The American dream is not about much money you make or how many buildings have your name on them.”
Rubio said he began his day at the convention by greeting the staff in the hotel’s kitchen. “The first words my dad learned in English were ‘I’m looking for a job,'” he noted.
CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash led the Q&A. When she highlighted the fact that Donald Trump backed out of his scheduled morning address, there were loud boos from the CPAC crowd.
“This is the American Conservative Union, so it’s usually reserved for conservatives,” Rubio responded, drawing big cheers.
“Either the ideas behind conservatism matter or they do not,” he said, noting it’s “not a coincidence” that many of the conservative leaders today grew up in the era of Reagan — and “Ronald Reagan looked and acted nothing like Donald Trump.”
“Who is the young, up-and-coming Democrat? Bernie Sanders.”
Asked by Bash why Trump is the frontrunner, Rubio noted media influence — stressing that they were five minutes into the Q&A and two of the three questions were about Trump.
In August, for example, when the GOP field was much larger and wide open, CNN dedicated 580 minutes to Trump coverage and 6 minutes to Rubio’s campaign.
Bash asked about the vulgarities on the campaign trail. “I don’t want to have a president where we’re constantly explaining to our kids, ‘I know the president did that, but you shouldn’t,'” Rubio said, adding “we actually had a president like that a few years ago.”
On the fact that he’s traded insults with Trump: “Where I grew up, if someone keeps punching someone in the face, eventually someone’s going to have to punch him back.”