THE VILLAGES, Florida — As he crisscrosses the state of Florida campaigning for president, Sen. Marco Rubio is warning against the political revolution sparked by Donald Trump that is changing the political landscape across the nation.
Rubio spoke to a crowd of mostly retirees and seniors at the established Florida retirement community here on Sunday and addressed what many of the attendees had been watching on the news over the weekend.
“We are now seeing images on television that we haven’t seen in this country since the 1960s — images that make us look like a Third World country,” he said, referring to the widely covered Chicago Donald Trump rally that was canceled after it was accosted by protesters.
Many in the crowd nodded in agreement as he continued criticizing the tone of Trump’s campaign. He alluded to the disastrous dictatorships in Latin America, based on leaders who campaigned as a “strong man.”
“Every country in the world, you go to Latin America you go to the Third World they are bedeviled by leaders that stand up and say, ‘I am going to be a strong leader. I am going to solve all your problems. Give me power and I will make your life better,’” he said. “And it always ends in disaster. Always.”
It’s a theme that Rubio has repeatedly returned to during his campaign stops this weekend in Florida.
The concern that Trump’s rhetoric was directly correlated to the violence at his political rallies was brought to the forefront by CNN’s Jake Tapper during the debate on Thursday. The debate was widely praised for raising the the political discussion out of the gutter that had already taken its toll on Rubio’s campaign. But after the dramatic Trump rally in Chicago which was canceled, the three remaining Republicans in the presidential race all stepped up with a response calling for a better politics.
Early Saturday morning, Rubio held a press gaggle prior to a rally in Largo to speak at length about the chaos that Trump was bringing to the political debate in America.
His tone was one of sadness, rather than the combative persona he assumed after the last debate in a failed attempt to take on Trump and go blow for blow on insults weeks earlier.
“We are being ripped apart at the seams now, the divisions are becoming along class and in some instances it appears race and other elements and it’s disturbing, but I’m also — I’m sad. I’m sad for this country,” he said during the press conference.
He returned to his campaign bus and made a dramatic entrance in front of a crowd of only about 250 people in the parking lot of Beckwith Electric Company.
Rubio explained to the crowd that his biggest concern about the Trump revolution is that it would define the future of conservatism. He cited Ronald Reagan’s optimism and conservative values that every Republican presidential hopeful since his presidency has tried to emulate.
“Is there anything about Donald Trump that reminds you of Ronald Reagan?” he asked.
“No!” the crowd shouted, as one woman shouted, “He reminds me of Chavez!”
“That’s a whole different story,” Rubio replied. He pointed to the new tone of American politics that had changed significantly since the election of President Obama.
“Who wants to live in a country where everyone hates each other? Who wants to live in a country where everyone is at each other’s throat over everything?” he said, signalling discouragement. “You know how tired I am of constantly fighting against my fellow Americans about everything?”
The solution, he argued, was one of intelligent discussion of policies that would actually help solve problems in America. Tax rates, Obamacare, Social Security, and the importance of a balanced budget, he explained, were issues that could be resolved through civil discourse and responsible rhetoric and not the dramatic bombast of the the current Republican presidential frontrunner.
He noted ruefully that he had campaigned for 10 months and 28 days on ideas and policy before moving to attack Trump. Rubio complained that the media largely ignored his campaign and only began broadcasting his rallies live when he started attacking the controversial billionaire.
Yet he appeared to acknowledge that Trump would remain in the forefront of media coverage, so he would spend the remainder of his time on the campaign trail offering an alternative.
Rubio’s basic stump speech which was heavy on policy was dramatically revised to include a discussion of what an ideal president — and a presidential candidate — should be.
Trump, he argued, had the mentality of an online troll that was sucking up all of the attention. That kind of attention seeking, he insisted, was not suitable for the presidency.
“If you want to be a professional Twitter troll, stay on Twitter,” Rubio said, alluding to Trump’s social media activity. “If you want to be one of these people that say crazy things, get a talk show.”
Later in the morning, he traveled to Ron’s Barbecue in Pasco county where the local Sheriff, Chris Nocco, stood up to introduce the senator.
I’m here for security, but I’m here to support my friend because I can tell you, he’s a genuine person,” he said. “Marco’s a great person, a great human being.”
Rocco worked for Rubio in the Florida legislature as a staff director and a deputy chief of staff for four years before he became the Sheriff of Pasco Country. He employed an armored tactical vehicle and over a dozen law enforcement officers to secure the rally.
But Rubio’s event had none of the struggles of a rally in a major city with tens of thousands of people filling the street. Roughly a hundred people packed into the local restaurant to order lunch and listen to their senator who was facing tough odds in his campaign for president.
Outside the restaurant a couple of Trump supporters raised signs, effectively trolling the event.
One man named Henry said he felt like it was important to prove to the country that Trump supporters were not just angry people looking for a fight.
“I felt it was important to support Trump, and all the cars that pass by I get more honks than anybody else,” he said proudly. “As you can see this is a peaceful group.”
He blamed the media for hyping the violence at the canceled rally in Chicago and trying to pin the blame on Trump.
“News media thrives on it,” he said. “They make their money on it, and they’ll keep doing it and when the elections are over they’ll find something else to cause discord.”
While he was speaking to Breitbart News, one woman, Charlene Burch, approached with a Marco Rubio sign.
“See I’m out here with these Trump supporters and I’m all right,” she said, as she stood next to him.
She pointed out that since they were in America, they could demonstrate their support for their preferred candidate without getting violent.
“I just decided that I needed to come out and join him, because this is America and we need to stand together,” she said. “They believe in Trump, I believe in Rubio.”
Rubio then traveled back to Tampa for a meet-and-greet with supporters at the Oxford Exchange, a indoor European style coffeeshop space with a bookstore and gift shop.
Speaking to a much younger audience, Rubio only offered a quick speech, urging them to vote.
“I promise you no one will ever work harder than we will work this week so that I can win Florida,” he said, speaking on a staircase with photographs of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy behind him. “And I can be your nominee and we can take our party and our country, and we can leave America better than it’s ever been.”
He then waded into the crowd willingly taking hundreds of selfies with the crowds of young supporters, eager for a second of screen time with their senator.
Rubio’s day wasn’t finished. From there he traveled to an event at Lakeland, FL and on to a rally in Pensacola with another crowd of about 250 at the Palafox Wharf.
“I’ll never give up, because if my parents gave up I wouldn’t be standing here today,” he said.
During the rally in front of over 350 people in The Villages, Rubio was joined by George Patton Waters — the grandson of General George Patton. He brought a pair of the famous general’s boots to the stage and set them on the stool next to Rubio’s glass of water.
“I brought these boots to sort of spur him on, maybe he’ll take them to Washington and change some people’s directions,” he said, as he introduced Rubio. “But these boots are a reminder of my grandfather General Patton … when it comes to America we have to keep marching forward.”
The audience was filled with veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces, particularly behind Rubio as he spoke earnestly to the group. He focused on the theme of leadership, describing Trump’s campaign as “a new brand of leadership which is no leadership at all.”
“It says to people, ‘Yes get angry. Get even angrier. And lets take it out on these people. Let’s do this and it’s everybody else’s fault that things are going wrong in our country,’” he said, paraphrasing Trump’s message. “And the result is we are now a nation of people hating each other. We are now a nation where we are no longer apparently capable of debating serious public policy, without immediately concluding the person that disagrees with you is evil.”
He pointed out that the Founding Fathers of the United States knew better, creating a system of limited government because they didn’t trust people with absolute power. He asserted that he was not interested in getting that kind of power.
“I always get uncomfortable when people come to me and say ‘We put all our faith in you,’” he said. “I’m a man, you cut me, I’ll bleed, you hurt me, I’ll feel pain.”
As his political future hangs in the balance in his home state, the candidate once ridiculed as a robot is making that clearer than ever.