Republican presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio and businessman Donald Trump argue during a Republican presidential primary debate at Fox Theatre on March 3, 2016, in Detroit, Mich.
Paul Sancya/AP

Marco Rubio’s line on Trump still needs work

It’s hardly an unfamiliar dynamic. Many times, high-profile rivals for a presidential nomination have waged bitter primary fights, only to grudgingly come together for the general election. Inevitably, the candidates who came up short are asked about the nasty things they said in the heat of electoral battle, and they respond with an obvious retort: those previous comments were hyperbolic and not a true reflection of their respect and affection for the party’s nominee.
The comments generally aren’t sincere, but it’s the script candidates read, not only in the name of party unity, but also to help justify a post-primary endorsement.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) may not fully understand this.
In the heat of the Republican presidential primary, Marco Rubio called Donald Trump a “con man.” And he doesn’t take it back. “I’ve stood by everything I ever said in my campaign,” Rubio told the Miami Herald editorial board Monday.
But Rubio still supports Trump for president.
During the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Rubio was quite candid in his condemnations of Trump. The Floridian referred to Trump as a “lunatic” and a “con man.” Rubio’s campaign, quite literally, sold #NeverTrump swag on its website. The senator told audiences that Trump might urinate on himself, mocked Trump’s hair and face, and even made vulgar jokes about Trump’s genitals.
In one especially memorable moment, Rubio insisted Trump cannot be trusted with the nation’s nuclear codes.
The GOP senator has had multiple opportunities to walk all of this back, and chalk it up to overheated campaign rhetoric, but Rubio doesn’t want to do that. On the contrary, he keeps saying that he “stands by everything” he said while condemning Trump’s fitness for office.
And in the next breath, Rubio also says he supports Trump’s presidential candidacy. He doesn’t seem to appreciate how foolish this sounds.
I don’t imagine the senator wants my advice, but this shouldn’t be that complicated. Rubio can say, “I may have engaged in some rhetorical excesses in the middle of a heated fight, but looking ahead, I support my party’s nominee.” If pressed on whether he still considers Trump a lunatic con-man, Rubio could say, “Of course not. That was all just hyperbole.”
But as things stand, the senator is trying to condemn his cake and eat it too. Rubio wants voters to know he still believes Trump is woefully unfit for office, but Rubio nevertheless wants Trump to be the leader of the free world.
The senator has had months to come up with a clear explanation for his position on Trump. Is this really the best he can do?