Florida senator and former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has a full plate since suspending his campaign. Rubio recently announced that he’s changed his mind, and will indeed run for reelection.
But, if the junior senator from the Sunshine State thinks he’s finally escaped the towering shadow of presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, he might be in for a surprise. Rubio sat down with CBS News’ John Dickerson on Face The Nation on Sunday morning, and unsurprisingly, he was forced to answer for some of Trump’s notorious, hugely controversial policy proposals.
Specifically, two of them: Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the United States (temporarily, he’s insisted, until we figure out “what the hell is going on”), and his pledge to deport 11 million undocumented Mexican immigrants upon taking office.
Both of these are wildly inflammatory ideas. As a result, down-ballot Republicans are being forced to grapple with them. When a party’s standard bearer embraces such radical and racist ideas, their comrades lower down on the ballot find themselves cornered by damaging rhetoric.
That wasn’t the spot Rubio was in when he announced he’d be leaving the Senate after just one term last week. But now he’s back in, meaning it was Dickerson’s job to make up for lost time, and hold his feet to the fire.
Dickerson challenged Rubio on Trump’s immigration plan, asking “if a person is in the country illegally―maybe their children have been born here—if they’re here and they’ve broken no other law but the immigration law, if Donald Trump is president should they be worried they’ll be deported?” Rubio’s response? Mass deportations simply won’t happen:
Well, I’ve said this before, Donald’s argument is he’s going to create this program, and the reality of it is you can’t do it. You can’t round up and deport 11 million people. There are people that need to be deported, criminals need to be deported, but you can’t round up and deport 11, 10, 9 million people. The American people wouldn’t stand for it, once they saw what it would take to make that happen.
Dickerson continued, pressing Rubio on whether Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s plan to present comprehensive immigration reform or Trump’s plan for mass deportations represented the better “starting point.”
Rubio again insisted that Trump had begun to back off from that proposal, but Dickerson wasn’t having it, noting “I talked to him about it, it sure seems like he wants to deport that 11 million.” But Rubio refused to waver reiterating his disbelief in the plan's feasibility. He recycled that same response when questioned about Trump’s proposed Muslim immigration ban, too, saying it's "not a real proposal, it's not something that's going to happen."
“That’s also not going to happen... That’s not a real proposal, it’s not something that’s going to happen.”
The closest Rubio came to overtly criticizing Trump was when he described the Muslim ban as a “bad policy for the country.” On the whole, he made it quite clear that he doesn’t think Trump’s aggressive talk will amount to much of anything. It may sounds like a slightly bizarre, ineffectual strategy, banking on the hope that Trump can’t possibly be as wild and impolitic in office as he seems now as a candidate. Unless Rubio was willing to go all the way and say “I will not support Donald Trump for president,”—a principled opposition that few Republicans so far have shown the bravery to voice—he’s pretty boxed-in, politically speaking.
For all the pre-primary hype about Rubio winning his home state of Florida, Trump bested him by a margin of nearly 19 points. Now that he's left the campaign trail, Rubio’s caught between two sides; at once trying to distance himself from someone he once called a “con man” who couldn’t be trusted with the nuclear codes, while campaigning for reelection in a state where that ill-tempered con man who dusted him mere months ago.