Rubio Stays With Trump, Taking Sides in Unfolding Republican Warby
Florida senator chides Trump but says Clinton is worse
Vulnerable senators split over how to handle Trump after tape
Marco Rubio is still on Team Trump, sticking with the man who humiliated him as “Little Marco” in the primaries even as other Republicans ditched his embattled campaign in droves.
There may be no better example of the predicament Donald Trump has put his party in than the Florida senator, who Republicans are counting to win re-election and help preserve GOP control of the Senate.
“I have consistently rejected his offensive rhetoric and behavior. I disagree with him on many things, but I disagree with his opponent on virtually everything,” Rubio said in his first statement on a 2005 audiotape of Trump bragging about groping women, four days after the tape surfaced. “I wish we had better choices for president. But I do not want Hillary Clinton to be our next president. And therefore my position has not changed.”
Republican Senate candidates like Rubio are why Democrats are re-assessing their chances of taking back the Senate. National Democrats may even take another look at the race in Florida, which they had all but written off in favor of tighter races in North Carolina and Missouri.
Vulnerable senators in those states are doing some version of Rubio’s balancing act. Richard Burr in North Carolina and Roy Blunt in Missouri, reaffirmed their support in recent days, even while sharply criticizing their nominee.
Other Republicans, like John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio, still say they won’t vote for Clinton, but took the more affirmative step of withdrawing their endorsements of Trump.
That triggered the wrath of Trump, who blasted Republican leaders and signaled he would openly campaign against the GOP establishment.
‘Pursuit of Power’
Rubio waited and waited to declare whether he would stick with Trump, taunted repeatedly by his Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, who has consistently trailed in the polls.
“Marco Rubio stands for nothing but his own pursuit of power,” Murphy said in a statement after Rubio finally issued his statement sticking with Trump.
But Rubio didn’t have any easy options.
Breaking with Trump would have risked a backlash from Trump’s fiercest supporters in a state where he thumped Rubio in the primary. It’s also a state where Trump plans to spend a lot of time, with events this week in Panama City, Ocala, Lakeland and West Palm Beach.
And Rubio could have damaged his future presidential prospects if he had knifed the party’s nominee after pledging to support him.
"If you’re Marco Rubio, you’ve carved out your own identity," said Brian Walsh, a Republican strategist. "There’s far less risk that voters are going to associate you with Donald Trump."
Cruz’s Agricultural Tour
Notably, Rubio ended up making the same choice as his longtime rival, Ted Cruz of Texas, who was also repeatedly humiliated by Trump in the primaries. Cruz, who is spending this week far out of the limelight on a three-day agricultural tour of Texas, made clear Monday he was still endorsing him because Clinton would be a "disaster."
There’s still one Senate Republican, meanwhile, who continues to play Hamlet when it comes to Trump: Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Toomey held an event Tuesday with Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who disavowed Trump long ago, and other women -- a day after he put out a statement noting he has yet to endorse Trump while criticizing Democrat Katie McGinty for sticking with Clinton.
Toomey said he is still where he’s been for months -- “unpersuaded” yet that Trump is worthy of his vote.
McGinty responded, knocking Toomey’s repeated mantra that he will stand up to whomever becomes president.
“How about standing up to Donald Trump right here in Pennsylvania, right here today?” she asked in a statement.
“Senator Toomey, it is time to man up,” McGinty said. “And to take Donald Trump for the totally unfit person he is: a person who cannot, will not be president of the United States of America.”