LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, offered no policy specifics whatsoever in a speech to Freedom Fest here at Planet Hollywood filled with rhetoric—and skipped off the stage without conducting a previously-agreed-to question-and-answer sessions with the audience.
The speech, which lasted just about 20 minutes, was scheduled previously to go for 30 minutes and include 10 minutes of Q&A. Rubio, after finishing his remarks, ducked off the back corner of the stage without taking questions from the audience—which all week leading up to this moment has been critical of him. What’s more, Rubio—through his campaign spokesman Alex Conant—has repeatedly refused Breitbart News Network interview requests here at the event.
Until now-Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, the affable real estate magnate and reality television mogul, announced he was coming to Freedom Fest—Trump is speaking on Saturday—for weeks Rubio was the keynote speaker of this conference. After Rubio attacked Trump over Trump’s accurate comments on immigration, Trump took the keynote status away from Rubio—announcing he’s going to be speaking on Saturday to close out the event. Trump, of course, is performing significantly better than Rubio or Rubio’s mentor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“Marco Rubio ‘American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity To Everyone’ Including 10 Mins Q&A,” the Freedom Fest website has read all week—meaning Rubio’s team and the event organizers agreed to question-and-answer ahead of time. It’s unclear why the senator bailed on the commitment, as his press team has not immediately responded to requests for comment, but it might have something to do with the fact that most of the crowd here isn’t a friendly one for the new emerging leader of Washington’s Republican establishment.
Event organizers thought Rubio was going to do Q&A all the way up until when he took the stage as they handed out comment cards for the couple thousand conservatives in attendance to write out questions beforehand and then give them to the senator to answer them on the stage.
“We thought he would do Q&A,” Freedom Fest spokeswoman Norann Dillon said in an email to Breitbart News. “It’s why we walked through with comment cards when [Glenn] Beck [who spoke before Rubio] finished. I don’t know why it changed, sorry.”
Throughout his speech on Friday night, Rubio made several jokes and spoke about his parents having grown up in Cuba and how he spent several years living in Las Vegas as a kid. But he offered no specific policy prescriptions and completely avoided—without even a mention of them—his signature issues of immigration and national security. Both are controversial to the Freedom Fest crowd—which is mostly a cross between libertarians and grassroots conservatives—as Rubio has turned off most of the Republican base with his outside-the-mainstream support for amnesty for illegal aliens and for things like the PATRIOT Act and all of the government surveillance programs contained within them.
“They already left two waters but I’m probably only going to need one,” Rubio opened his remarks by joking, cracking wise about how when he gave the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address a couple years ago he had to lunge for water mid-speech.
“I was asked to talk about the American dream, the theme of this conference,” Rubio said. “It’s something I feel really passionately about because I feel like the American dream has been a deep part of my life as it has been in yours. Tonight I want to share with you what the American dream means to me, what it’s challenges are today and why I believe the American dream will not just survive—I think it will change the lives of more people than it’s ever changed before.”
Rubio told the story of how his parents were born in Cuba.
“I was born to two parents who were themselves born in a different place,” Rubio said. “They weren’t born in America. They were born in a small island in the Western Caribbean called Cuba. They were both born into very poor families. My father was born to a very poor family who lived in Havana, and they basically ran a catering company that fed the workers at the tobacco factory. My mother was one of eight girls—one of them died in infancy—so my mother was one of eight girls, raised primarily in rural Cuba by a father who had been disabled by polio and a mother who was illiterate, didn’t know how to read.”
Rubio noted that neither of his parents were born with political connections or lots of money, and that society in Cuba prevented upward mobility for them.
“Neither one of them were born into a family with any sort of connections or power or money. They were born into a society like most of the societies that have ever existed,” Rubio said. “Almost every single place in the world, you are told on the day you are born you will only be allowed to be what your parents were before you. If your parents are rich and your parents are famous, your parents are connected, you’re probably going to be rich and famous and connected. If your parents are not, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, you will not be able to do anything more than your parents.
“For those of us raised in this country our whole lives, that is a shocking statement. Because that’s not the life we have known. And let me tell you, throughout history—6,000 some odd years of recorded history—that is the way almost everyone who has ever lived had to live including the man and woman who were my mother and father.
“I am blessed that in 1956 they came to the United States, they spent a year in New York, they learned quickly that Cubans are allergic to snow, and they moved to Miami. My parents came here and they came here—at the time they barely spoke any English, they didn’t have any money, they had no formal education, and they struggled.”
He added that while his parents didn’t find it easy in America, they eventually did find success.
“Life in America was hard. It wasn’t easy,” Rubio said. “They didn’t walk off the airplane and immediately hit it big. In fact, they were discouraged their first few years here. But they stuck it out and they persevered. They never became rich, they never became famous, but my parents were successful because they were able to work as a bartender and a maid—my mom did a lot of jobs, she worked at a factory building aluminum chairs, then she worked as a cashier at a hotel in Miami, then she worked as a maid right here in this city at the Imperial Palace, I lived here for six years growing up. Then she went back to Miami and became a stock clerk at KMart. My dad was primarily a bartender at the bowling alley here in Las Vegas, at Sam’s Town.
“Working those jobs, here’s what my parents achieved: They owned a home in a safe and stable neighborhood. They raised four children and raised all of them with a better life than the one they knew. And they were able to retire with dignity and security.”
From there, Rubio cited the Declaration of Independence and the American idea that rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness “don’t come from the government, they don’t come from a king, they don’t come from the law—they come from your creator.” He discussed how the purpose of government is to “protect those rights,” not to “assign them or grant them.”
“The only power we’re going to give the government is the power they need to protect those rights,” Rubio said. “Those are words that we’ve grown numb to because we’ve known it our whole lives. Let me tell you, that was the reason why everything else I just described to you was possible because from that flowed political freedoms and from that also flowed economic freedoms.”
Rubio then made another wisecrack—this time about gambling.
“The reason why he [Rubio’s father] had a job is because someone who had access to money risked that money to open up the hotel he worked in,” Rubio said. “Then the people of this country had enough money—but not enough sense—to come to Las Vegas and gamble it all away and then after they lost it all drink at the bar.”
After some rhetoric about the American dream, Rubio talked about how the “economy is becoming a global one.”
“Think back to the 1960s or 1970s, half the world was Communist,” Rubio said. “Many of the other countries that were developed and not Communist were still recovering from World War II. And then there was America. We had limited competition. It was not a good idea to raise taxes, but you could get away with it to a certain degree. It was a terrible idea to increase regulations but you could get away with it to a certain degree.
“We didn’t have that much competition but that is not the case any more. There are a dozen or so countries around the world who are in some way, shape or form trying to copy some of the things we did in the 20th century. As a result the world has become globally competitive.”
Rubio said another change that’s put America at less of an advantage on the world stage is technology, at which point he told a few more jokes.
“Ten years ago, if I told you I was going to Google you, you’d probably be offended,” Rubio said. “If I told you seven years ago I was about to Tweet something, you’d say that’s too much information.”
Rubio said that technology has changed the way people get jobs, and work, to feed their families—and tied it in with the higher education system. When talking about higher education, while he didn’t offer any specific ideas for reforms in this speech, Rubio got closer here than anywhere else to a serious policy area away from all the rhetoric.
“The only way you can acquire the skills for an education is to go through an existing and stagnant cartel we call traditional higher education,” Rubio said. “If we want to save the American dream, we must confront these two things. One, we need government policies that make us globally competitive again and two we need to allow innovation and competition to allow more people than ever to access the skills that they need in the 21st century.”
Rubio called out the IRS tax code and pushed for a generic form of tax reform. He also hammered generic government regulations—without naming any particular such regulations or plans he has to cut back on any specific regulations—but he did tell a story of a local example overregulation in local government in South Florida.
“I teach a course at Florida International University,” Rubio noted. “My students, as you can imagine, are young so they often lean left—or they think they do. They were complaining that they couldn’t use Uber in Miami. I pounced. I said ‘you know why you can’t use Uber? Because an established industry called the taxi cab and the owners of those medallions have used their influence on the County Commission to ensure that no one can compete against them for pay.’ Their eyes lit up and they said, ‘well that sounds wrong,’ and I said ‘well, welcome to the conservative movement.’”
The crowd cheered.
Rubio spoke on for another nearly 10 minutes, again without delving into any policy ideas, before ducking off the stage without completing the previously-agreed-to question-and-answer session.