Marco Rubio appeared careful not to utter the words “I will support Donald Trump for president” to Jake Tapper Tuesday on CNN, though he repeatedly said he still plans to “support the Republican nominee.” He said outright that he does not want Hillary Clinton to be president and will honor the pledge he took as a former Republican presidential candidate to support the GOP nominee.
He stands by his criticisms of Trump’s campaign, including of its tone and of Trump’s positions with which he disagrees, such as Trump’s opposition to NATO. Their differences are “well-defined,” Rubio said. He also put to rest rumors that Trump was considering him for a running mate, saying Trump should choose someone who agrees with more of the presumptive nominee’s positions.
Rubio’s answer was pretty typical political rhetoric, though from it we could infer two things: First, he seems unwilling to align himself with Trump, the man, and second, he might not want to burn bridges with the GOP in case he makes another Republican presidential bid in 2020. This second point could also explain Rubio’s promise not to be a vociferous critic of Trump during the election season and instead to shift his focus to supporting conservative congressional candidates. It might be that he recognizes how crucial keeping the House and the Senate will be for conservatives in the coming years.
I’d love to see both Rubio and Ted Cruz unequivocally denounce Trump and break their pledges to uphold him. I could understand if they’re concerned about 2020 and the pickle that the pledge has become, but the GOP is also facing serious existential questions, particularly as a vehicle for conservative ideas. One has to wonder whether Rubio or any conservative would still be welcome in the party after a Trump-driven reconfiguration. Technicalities such as the pledge might become the least of conservative politicians’ worries. And ultimately it’s still hard to reconcile Rubio’s default support for Trump with his previous label of Trump as a con artist.
Right now Rubio is focused on finishing his Senate term and doesn’t plan to run for governor of Florida in 2018 or to become a lobbyist. So he has a life outside of politics, which is refreshing, though he would return in 2020 with roughly the same political experience he has now.
Rubio believes that Trump will learn more about foreign policy as the nominee and as he amasses advisors. It’s hard to share his optimism when we’re dealing with Trump, who is not only ignorant of the details in Iraq and Syria but apparently doesn’t care to learn. Rubio warned back in February that electing Trump would “turn over the . . . nuclear codes of the United States — to an erratic individual — and the conservative movement — to someone who has spent a career sticking it to working people.” Does Rubio still stand by this criticism?
#related#Jake Tapper also made an interesting point: Rubio seems more aligned on foreign policy with Clinton than Trump. Rubio hedged, but it has been pointed out that Clinton is to Trump’s right on foreign policy. But Rubio is concerned about domestic policy as well, he explained, because, for instance, he is strongly pro-life and Clinton is not. When Trump’s most substantive policy position on this issue is that Planned Parenthood does lots of wonderful things, it’s not clear why Rubio would use his pro-life stance as a reason to support Trump over Clinton.
At least Rubio isn’t pretending to unsay all his past denunciations of Trump and act as his surrogate. That’s more than I can say for some.