Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday that he will not rescind support for Donald Trump, even while reiterating he has "consistently rejected his offensive rhetoric and behavior."
"I ran against Donald Trump. And while I respect that voters chose him as the GOP nominee, I have never hesitated to oppose his policies I disagree with," Rubio said in a statement. "And I have consistently rejected his offensive rhetoric and behavior. I disagree with him on many things, but I disagree with his opponent on virtually everything. I wish we had better choices for president. But I do not want Hillary Clinton to be our next president. And therefore my position has not changed."
The Florida senator has come under pressure from Democrats to back away from Trump, and he has stood out as dozens of other Republicans have done so after Trump's sexually aggressive comments in a video that surfaced Friday. Rubio's re-election hopes rely on the GOP base turning out, so he has maintained tepid support for Trump.
A Rubio reversal would risk the wrath of Trump himself. "Disloyal R's are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary," Trump wrote Tuesday on Twitter. "They come at you from all sides. They don't know how to win — I will teach them!"
And looking ahead to 2020, Rubio wants to signal absolute opposition to Clinton.
That balance has worked — Rubio leads in the polls — but he has increasingly drawn critics from both parties, who see the posture as nothing more than a calculation. "Marco Rubio stands for nothing but his own pursuit of power," said Democratic rival Patrick Murphy, who is trying to make the most of the fresh opening against Rubio.
"Marco Rubio is a shameless coward who is willing to say or do anything to win an election," said Allison Tant, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party. "He stands with a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women. He stands with a man who mocks people with disabilities and threatens to jail political opponents. He stands with a man who has embraced racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia."
Rubio's comments follow several days of silence, though he did condemn Trump on Friday. "Donald's comments were vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify," Rubio wrote on Twitter. "No one should ever talk about any woman in those terms, even in private."
Two other top Florida Republicans are also standing by Trump: Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.