Sen. Marco Rubio says he isn't campaigning for the vice presidential spot, and he's far from throwing his hat in the ring for 2016. But at a Washington, D.C., hotel today, Rubio delivered a speech to a crowd from Des Moines, Iowa, that had all the trappings of a candidate's stump speech, from his jokes about Iowa to his warm-up act of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to speaking of the power and vision of America.
"The American example is powerful, and as I stand before you today there's still nothing to replace it," the Florida Republican told the Greater Des Moines Partnership. "If America declines, there's no one to take our place. There's no other country on this planet prepared to be what we once were. If we decline, who rises? If our principles are no longer articulated around the world, whose principles take our principles' place?
He went on to say, "The greatest thing we can do for the world is be American, be exceptional, continue to be a place where we don't divide people against each other, continue to be a place where we don't tell people the way for you to climb the economic ladder is for me to bring him down. The way for you to be better off is for me to take money from this guy and give it to that guy."
Rubio, 40, said, "No matter what our political differences are, we should never turn our backs or walk away from the things that make America different and special. Because if we do, it wont just be America that declines. It'll be the world that declines. And we will be responsible not just for leaving our children a country that's worse off, we'll be responsible for leaving them a world that's worse off. I have no doubt that this generation of Americans will do what every generation of Americans before us has done. We will confront these problems, we and we will solve them. I have no doubt about that."
Rubio's speech, which remained largely non-partisan, touched on a wide range of issues, from the tax code and regulatory reform to enhancing education opportunities and fixing Medicare. He notably did not touch on immigration reform and only discussed it when asked by the crowd after his speech.
Rubio said he has no magical power to solve the undocumented immigrant problem with one plan but said the issue needs to be dealt with "sequentially."
"I don't have a magical wand for that," he said. "I don't have the magic answer. I can tell you we're not going to round up 9 million people and deport them and I can tell you we're not going to give amnesty to 9 million people. Those two things I can tell you aren't going to happen."
When asked about the alternative to the DREAM ACT that he's developing, Rubio described it as "a very reasonable way to use our legal immigration system to address a humanitarian problem" and linked the way undocumented students should be viewed to the same feelings applied to refugees.
"Their claim is not a claim on our laws," he said. "Their claim is a claim on our conscience, and if we want to, if we feel compelled because of the humanitarian cause, we can address it."
Trying to relate to the Iowa-based crowd, Miami-born Rubio told stories of his time at Tarkio College in Missouri where he experienced snow for the first time and frequently crossed the state lines to dine at McDonald's in Davenport, Iowa. As he eased the crowd into his speech, Rubio joked about a recent mishap in which he lost a page of his speech.
"Two weeks ago I gave a speech on foreign policy, and I usually don't write the speech, but I write notes or go off of note cards, but this speech I actually wrote and it went really well until the end when I forgot the last page," he said. "It wasn't on the table. And you can just imagine after years of making teleprompter jokes, the critics were merciless.
"But I really needed that page because it had a quote on it. But today I wanted to give you something meaningful, but I didn't want to have that problem, so I brought a one-page speech," he said to laughter.
Rubio's speech lacked any mention of vice presidential aspirations, but his fellow senator broached the subject, saying that any call Rubio answers will be for the U.S. people.
"Somebody might ask him whether or not he's going to run for vice president," Grassley said. "I don't know what the answer is, but let me tell you this: Let me tell you what I know about Senator Rubio. If he decides a call, it's not going to be based upon a Republican candidate for president making that call. It's not going to be based on doing something good for the Republican Party. I know Senator Rubio, that he's only going to do it because America calls."
While his speech did not outwardly reflect a desire to hit the campaign trail in Iowa in 2016, it could serve as a precursor to his future ambitions. Rubio will address another key constituency next week that could help him if he chooses to make a 2016 bid when he speaks at the South Carolina GOP's Silver Elephant Dinner in Columbia, S.C.
For now, however, Rubio is staying mum on 2016 and the vice presidential spot.