ABOARD THE RUBIO CAMPAIGN PLANE — A humbled Marco Rubio fielded questions from reporters for 45 minutes on a flight from New Hampshire to South Carolina on Wednesday morning, taking aim at Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, praising John Kasich and Chris Christie and comparing his widely mocked debate performance to getting beat on a key play in a football game.
The senator from Florida, who is coming off a disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire and has been accused of being too guarded and scripted, seemed to be in search of catharsis, opening up to reporters for a more extended period than he ever has in his campaign.
“I think the lesson is, look, when you’re asked a question like that no matter how much you want to avoid an in intra-party fight, you’re going to have to deal with it frontally,” Rubio said of the criticism he faced over his repetition of talking points in Saturday’s Republican presidential debate.
Christie, the candidate who pointed out Rubio’s repeats, was reassessing whether his campaign should go forward on Wednesday morning. Rubio declined to attack Christie, saying jokingly the only thing he didn’t like about him was his support for the Dallas Cowboys.
“I like Chris, despite all this stuff,” Rubio said.
As he did in a speech to supporters Tuesday night, Rubio put the blame for his poor showing in New Hampshire squarely on himself. Saturday’s debate clearly took a toll on his showing, he conceded. Rubio drew on his time as a college football cornerback to frame his outlook.
“You’re gonna get beat,” he said, adding: “You gotta put that play behind you because the next play is just as important."
The senator has mostly declined to criticize Trump, but when asked about him, he said Trump “doesn’t have any policy positions.”
“Once this race narrows, the pressure will be on him to say, 'Okay, here’s how I’m going to deal with ISIS. This is what we’re going to do about bringing jobs back,'” Rubio said.
Rubio declined to set expectations for the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary, beyond saying, “I want to do well.” He said that he didn’t expect the nomination fight to be decided in the next couple of states, or even by March 1.
Rubio said he has “more experience” than Bush on “foreign policy and national security.” And he highlighted Bush’s heavy investment in New Hampshire.
“He basically lived there,” Rubio quipped.
Notably, Rubio did not attack Kasich, who finished second on Tuesday and is expected to compete with Bush for support.
“I like John. I think he did very well yesterday,” Rubio said.