(March 14, 2016 / JNS) Editor’s note: Reprints of the following interview online and in print must credit the original source, Mishpacha Magazine, and online versions must include a hyperlink to www.mishpacha.com. Mishpacha Magazine published a shorter version of this interview.
On Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio suspended his presidential campaign in a speech at his campaign headquarters in Miami after losing in his home state to Donald Trump, who won more than 45 percent of the vote. Just prior to this pivotal political battle and ultimate loss, Rubio spoke with Mishpacha Magazine correspondent Aryeh Werth to share his impressions of the crucial Florida primary and how his faith was his compass along the treacherous campaign trail. It was Rubio’s first formal interview with a national Jewish magazine during the presidential primary season. Regarding Iran, Israel, and Islamic State, Rubio said those “core issues aren’t just talking points…no one running for president has more experience on those issues or a more clear track record than I do.” Rubio also discussed why he believes the increasingly likely November matchup between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is an undesirable scenario.
Aryeh Werth: For many Jewish voters, there are three issues that I call “pillar issues” in international security: Iran, Islamic State, and Israel. You and Senator Ted Cruz hold very similar positions on these issues, so how can Jewish voters distinguish you from Senator Cruz?
Marco Rubio: “Well, these core issues aren’t just talking points and I’m not claiming that they are to other candidates either. But there are also intricacies and details involved in it and no one running for president has more experience on those issues or a more clear track record than I do. I’ve already said repeatedly that I would cancel the deal with Iran on my first day in office. I think that’s true of everyone running for president except for maybe one candidate. I’m not sure what Mr. Trump said about it. I think he said he wouldn’t cancel it right away either, but you’ll have to clarify that.”
In your approach to Israel’s security, what is unique?
“Israel only asks two things of the United States. Number one that we use our influence both at the U.N. and beyond to stop these efforts to delegitimize Israel which I have repeatedly said we will do and I continue to speak out against. In fact, I think I’m the only candidate that’s been willing to say that all this anti Israel stuff and all this divestment stuff is all really the new face of anti-Semitism in the 21st century hidden behind an anti Israel agenda. And the other thing they ask is that if they’re attacked and they run out of weapons or bullets or rockets, that we resupply them. That’s been in doubt as well especially since the attacks a year and a half ago…We will resupply them quickly to defend themselves.”
As a senator, what have you done to specifically to help Israel defend itself?
“Unlike some of my opponents, I’ve always voted for the National Defense Authorization Act because it contains the authorization for funding the Iron Dome, which is a critical component of Israel’s defense. I’d also say one more thing, that I passed a law earlier this year and the president signed it, increasing sanctions on Hezbollah. So I have a proven track record of doing things that are meaningful when it comes to Israel. And when I was speaker of the [Florida] House [of Representatives], we were the first state in the country to divest our pension plans from any companies that were doing business with Iran.”
One aspect of dealing with Islamic State that’s not being discussed in the campaign is the difference between radical Islam and terrorism. Besides the terrorism threat, experts say radical Islamists also pose a non-violent threat called “civilization jihad”—using stealthy strategies to slowly replace the democratic culture of Western countries with their extremist version of Islam. What would you do to curtail radical Islam as an ideology?
“Ultimately, I think the key is our nation is a nation founded and shaped by Judeo-Christian values. And our Constitution protects our right to live out those teachings in every aspect of our life. So I think that’s why it’s so important to adhere to the Constitution so that our faith communities continue to be strong and its influence over our society, over our families, over ourselves, we want to continue to ensure that happens. And I think if we do that the rest will be taken care of. But we’re not going to allow political correctness and some of these other agendas to work their way in in a way that it actually discriminates against our Judeo-Christian values—meanwhile, creating fertile territory for some of these other things that you’ve talked about.”
WAR WITH TRUMP
On the campaign trail, you made a marked shift from a diplomatic approach to becoming very aggressive against Donald Trump. Do you feel any tension between launching those verbal attacks and your faith, which you have said is the strongest influence in your life?
“There is this term ‘righteous indignation.’ Being faithful doesn’t mean you stand by when something’s untrue and watch it pervade and watch it prevail. We have a responsibility not just to tell the truth but to confront what’s not true with facts. My faith teaches that as well. I think Donald Trump is the most vulgar person that’s ever run for president. He’s said some horrifying things about virtually everyone. He sets a terrible example for young people in this country and children. But beyond that, it’s my role to say that who he says he is, and who he truly is, are not the same thing. The personality that he’s portraying is not the same as what we’re going to get if he’s the president, and he has a long business record that proves it. So it is important to point to the truth and shine a light on that. My core message remains the same. My core message is not simply to vote against anyone else. My core message is to vote for me. Because I believe this country has a chance to be better than it’s ever been if we do what needs to be done.”
In a recent debate, you announced you would support Trump if he becomes the party’s nominee. How can you do that if you believe he’s really a “dangerous con artist?”
“It’s just a testament to how bad I think Hillary Clinton is. Your question is a very difficult one. It’s a situation I want to avoid. I’m just one vote. There are millions of people in the country who are going to face this same dilemma, and many of them are not going to make the same choice I’ve announced. And that means the Republicans will lose this election and Hillary Clinton will be elected. If Donald Trump is our nominee, we are going to lose, because there are millions of Republicans and conservatives who will not vote for him. They will just simply stay home, and we will lose if that happens.”
In the event that you don’t win the primary in your home state, Florida, what are your plans for your campaign?
“I don’t deal with hypotheticals other than to tell you we’re going to win Florida. We’ve never based our campaign on any state. Florida is important for everyone in this race, not just for me. It has the single largest chunk of delegates being awarded by any state. It has always had a huge role to play in the primary cycle. And it will so again now. We feel great. We have the best team on the ground, the best campaign, the best message, and I feel good about it. Ultimately we’ll see how it turns out. I feel very positive about it.”
Political observers say if you can’t win Florida, you shouldn’t stay in the race. If you do, you’ll just be splitting Trump’s opposition and helping him rack up delegates.
Political observers have been wrong about everything in this election cycle. Conventional wisdom has been proven wrong on a daily basis in this campaign. I’m running for president. I’m not running to be a political analyst. I’m focused on my message and my campaign and I feel very positive about it.
If you don’t win the nomination, how will you reconcile that with your faith? Will you view it as divine providence?
“I believe God has a plan for all of us. He has a plan for our life, and it’s a good plan. It’s the best plan for us. It may not be our plan, but it’s the right plan, and that’s been proven to me time and again. I just go out and do my best and cooperate with His will, and His will will be done. And if it is that I be president, I will serve faithfully and thankfully, and if it’s something different, I will embrace it faithfully and thankfully as His will. He knows what’s best for me.”
There’s a lot of pressure on you. How does tapping into your faith help you get through this challenging period and understand the weight of what’s on your shoulders?
“My faith is the single biggest influence on my life. I tap into it before the campaign and afterward. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to bed. Throughout the day, my faith influences how I make my decisions, how I view both opportunity and challenge, and how I view both prosperity and adversity. And that’s not just when it comes to the campaign. That’s how I approach my life and every aspect of it.”
Can you tell us how you see the connection between Judaism and your own faith?
“Well I’m a Christian, and Christianity is based in Judaism…The first Christians were all observant [Jews] who observed the law and observed the practices and traditions. To understand Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular you have to understand Judaism.”
In the Hebrew Bible, is there a story or personality that particularly inspires you?
“Passover—the Exodus from Egypt is to me the telling of life. Throughout that journey God kept showing his hand and the people would witness incredible miracles and works of God and then would fall into doubt many times throughout that journey. And I think that’s what we go through in life. There are difficulties and God steps in and helps us and yet within days we’ve forgotten it and moved back again to our doubts and our practices. So I think if you look at the Exodus story it is one that applies to the broader teachings of life.”
Aryeh Werth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @WerthAri.