Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, the Republican whose meteoric rise in the GOP Senate primary drove Gov. Charlie Crist from the Republican Party, told ABC News' "Nightline" on Thursday that the governor's move is motivated by convenience, not conviction.
"This has nothing to do with ideas or principles or ideology; it's about, quite frankly, political convenience," Rubio told ABC News' Terry Moran in an interview that will air Thursday evening on "Nightline." "It's about someone who wants to continue his career in politics and doesn't believe he can do that this year within the Republican Party."
"Nightline" spoke with Rubio on Thursday just hours before Crist announced that he is leaving the Republican Party to run for the United States Senate as an independent. Crist said that his decision to run for the Senate as a candidate without party affiliation says more about the nation and state than it does about him. The Florida governor has been hammered by Rubio for embracing President Obama's economic stimulus package last year.
Asked if he thinks President Obama is a socialist, Rubio sidestepped the question.
"Well I think he has a much ... more enthusiastic belief in government's ability to generate economic growth than I do and than most of us do," said Rubio.
"So he's not a socialist?" Moran asked.
"Well, let me tell you what he is," Rubio said. "He is not a believer in the free-enterprise system. I don't believe his administration believes fully in the free-enterprise system."
Watch Terry Moran's day-in-the-life profile of Rubio tonight on "Nightline," at 11:35 p.m. ET.
Rubio said that it is up to individual Republican donors to decide if they want to request their money back from Crist.
"Well, to the extent there are people who gave to Charlie Crist because he was running as a Republican and they thought he would be the Republican nominee, that's a choice for individual donors to make and for the party to make," said Rubio. "I think some party apparatuses gave him money under those pretenses, as well."
Although he did not expect to find himself in a three-way race in November, Rubio said that he will continue to present himself as the only candidate who will stand up to President Obama.
"This country already has a Democrat[ic] Party," said Rubio. "It doesn't need two Democrat[ic] parties."
In his campaign against Crist, Rubio repeatedly has attacked the Florida governor for being a champion of President Obama's economic stimulus program and has used images of Crist embracing Obama when the president was in the state of Florida last year.
"The hug was symbolic of something bigger," said Rubio. "It wasn't hugging the person. It was embracing the stimulus program as a way to solve America's economic woes."
Although many economists think that the U.S. recession would have been worse without Obama's stimulus package, Rubio said that they are ignoring that there were other alternatives on the table.
"It's not a choice of stimulus or nothing at all," said Rubio. "That's a false choice."
"As a U.S. Senate candidate, I argued that there were better ideas on the table, ways to lower the corporate tax, to lower or eliminate the capital gains tax, to make permanent the Bush tax cuts, and in fact, to flatten and simplify our tax code," said Rubio. "Those were measures that would have done a lot more to generate and stimulate job creation in America."