Fresh off a strong debate performance, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pivoted his attacks to the general election and Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an effort to move beyond the intraparty sniping that characterized Wednesday night’s debate.
“Here’s what I would hate more,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday morning, “and that is to wake up on the first Wednesday of November in 2016 to the news that Hillary Clinton has been elected president of the United States.”
“Because that means that the next four years are going to be like or worse than the last eight years, and our country can’t afford that,” he added.
Wednesday night’s CNBC debate was the moment Rubio needed to emerge from the fray, but his task in his morning after victory lap was to appear presidential — and ready to take on Clinton in a general election debate.
As he did on the debate stage, he criticized the media and Clinton simultaneously, accusing them of covering up lies about the Benghazi attacks.
During the congressional hearing on Benghazi “it was revealed that Hillary Clinton knew early on and was telling her family and telling her friends that the attack on the consulate was by terrorists, al-Qaeda-like terrorists,” Rubio said on CNN.
“The Clintons are nothing but masters of self-preservation,” he added. “She was telling her relatives and friends early on that she clearly had doubts.”
There was “never a single shred of evidence” that the attack was caused by a controversial video, an explanation that Clinton and Obama administration officials provided in the days after the attacks.
Clinton called the changing narratives after the attacks a “fog of war” moment in her testimony before the hearing. But Rubio and other Republicans have accused Clinton and the Obama administration of having political motivations.
“It furthered a political narrative that the administration had settled on” ahead of Obama’s 2012 re-election contest, Rubio said. “That was a moment when true leadership would have said ‘no.'”
Rubio made the rounds on morning news shows Thursday and declined to attack his mentor and Republican presidential rival Jeb Bush, despite striking at him during the debate.
“I still have tremendous admiration for him both as a person and what he did as governor of Florida,” he told the “Today” show’s Savannah Guthrie. “I’m not going to talk bad about Gov. Jeb Bush. My campaign is not about him.”
“It isn’t going to change my feelings and my views about him,” he added.
On “CBS This Morning,” Rubio said the differences between the two will be fleshed out in terms of policy.
“I’m going to continue to tell people who I am, what I’m for. There are policy differences between us, we’ll discuss those. Americans deserve to hear those. But I’m not going to change my campaign,” he said. “Jeb is my friend, I have admiration for him. I’m not running for him. I’m running for president.”
Bush needed a breakout performance Wednesday night and didn’t get it, in part because Rubio launched a counterattack against an offensive Bush tried to wage against the senator about him missing congressional votes.
Despite his tactical victory in the debate tangle with Bush, Rubio made an effort to distance himself from his own comments that in the past suggested that he had given up on his day job in the Senate in favor of running for president.
“For me it’s an incredible honor to serve in the U.S. Senate,” he said on “Today,” noting that constituent service is a part of the job that he enjoys “very much.”
“We serve real people every day,” he added. “And we enjoy doing that service and we’re going to continue to do it.”
On both CBS and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Rubio blasted the front-runner in the Democratic race, Clinton, for tweeting a GIF showing her brushing off her shoulder during a hearing about the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. He said on ABC that Clinton and the administration altered the narrative of the attacks to help President Obama’s reelection bid.
“That was a serious hearing about a serious issue. As far as taking her on if I’m our nominee, we’re gonna be the party of the future and the Democrats will be exposed as the party of big government ideas from the past,” he said on CBS.
Rubio swiped at CNBC, which put on and whose hosts moderated the debate, saying that the questions weren’t substantive enough. He said he thought the candidates would talk about issues including taxes and plans to reduce the debt.
“I thought it was a wasted opportunity and quite frankly that’s what made it unfair, not just to the candidates but to the American people,” he said.