As the Republican primaries draw near, Sen. Marco Rubio seems ready to position himself as more of a general election candidate, speaking Saturday at a rally in Greenville, South Carolina, about the need for the next president to unite all Americans, regardless of their party affiliation.
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“If I'm honored with the chance to be president, I will never pit you against other Americans,” he said at Furman University in response to a question about how he might re-instill “trust and integrity” to the office of the president.
Rubio’s new lines come on the heels of Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from coming to the United States, just the latest in what critics say is increasingly divisive language being used by some Republican candidates, raising worries in the party about the general election.
“I will never tell you that your challenges are happening because someone else in this country is the cause of it,” Rubio said.
Rubio continued with what could be seen as a veiled swipe at Trump and his “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“Here’s the bottom line, guys,” he told the crowd. “We can’t have a great America if a substantial percentage of our population feels disaffected, disenchanted or disconnected."
“Our next president must be the president of the ‘United’ States, not the leader of a political party alone, but someone who understands that the president has to work in the best interest of everyone, including people that don’t like you, including people that tweet mean things about you, including people that will never vote for you,” he continued.
When reporters later asked about Trump’s statements that he would ban Muslims from entering the United States, Rubio said it was “offensive and inappropriate, and frankly counterproductive.”
“I just don’t see it a serious proposal,” he said, “but obviously I think he did it largely to get back in the news.”
Earlier this week, Rubio said he doesn’t think Trump will be the Republican nominee.
"We need to nominate someone who actually has a chance to win in the general election," he said on Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
In addition to offering himself up as just that, it seems Rubio is also beginning to work on his young voter outreach. Furman University was Rubio’s third visit to a college campus just this week; the crowd mostly consisted of students and young professionals. Accordingly, Rubio opened his speech by talking about student loans and the need to reform higher education.
“I thought that was very refreshing,” said Anna Carolina Soldan, a freshman at the university. “My student loans are going to be through the roof by the time I graduate, so that’s very comforting to know that there’s that option for my future children and future generations.”
“I am a business owner, so I really appreciated his emphasis on giving more power back to individuals, sort of moving away from this system where government kind of dictates too much and oversteps its bounds in too many areas,” said William Warren, whose younger brother attends Furman.
One student asked Rubio what he would tell college students who think the race for the White House has turned into a kind of “reality show.” Rubio answered by urging young Americans to get involved in 2016.
“The consequences are much more significant than a reality show,” he said. “I hope [students] understand that this election is that important, that's it not a choice between political parties, it's a generational choice about our identity as a nation and as a people.”
“It is the most important election in their lifetime, and I hope that they are involved and I hope that they're asking questions because no one has a bigger stake in the outcome of this election than younger Americans," he concluded.