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State of the Union

Interview With Florida Senator Marco Rubio on the 2016 Campaign; Donald Trump To Appear At Motorcycle Rally. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired May 29, 2016 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Today, the most unpredictable primary ever, as seen from the inside.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Donald Trump, we underestimated.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a movement. We're going to make our country great again.

RUBIO: He's figured out something about the electorate that's going to allow him to survive in ways no one else on the stage would be able to do.

TAPPER: Florida Senator Marco Rubio tells us his mistakes.

RUBIO: He knows exactly what he's doing.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: There it is, the memorized 25- second speech.

RUBIO: I walked into this -- this trap, unfortunately.

TAPPER: His regrets.

TRUMP: I call him little Marco, little Marco.

RUBIO: By the time he started doing that, we were kind of in a very bad spot in the campaign.

TAPPER: And what he's willing to do for Donald Trump.

RUBIO: I want to be helpful. I don't want to be harmful.

TAPPER: Will he ever run for office again?

RUBIO: I think that's a safe assumption.

TAPPER: A special edition of STATE OF THE UNION starts now.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is reflective.

It's Memorial Day Weekend, so we're thinking about those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. We're also reflective today about where we are in the presidential race, with Donald Trump having officially clinched the Republican nomination this past week.

So, today, we wanted to bring you something that you have not seen before, a candidate for president pulling back the curtain on the campaign, talking candidly and extensively about the highs and lows of running for the highest office in the land.

If you have ever wondered, what is that guy thinking, well, today, you will find out.

Senator Marco Rubio joined me for an extended interview, looking back at his run for the presidency. And he's remarkably open about what he feels he did right, what he did wrong, and what he never saw coming.

His answers were so revealing, we wanted to share as much of them as we could, beginning with what he really thinks about Donald Trump.


TAPPER: There obviously was a time when you thought that Memorial Day weekend, you hoped would be -- you know, you would be...

RUBIO: The nominee.

TAPPER: ... the nominee. And you would...

RUBIO: Yes, getting ready for a convention.

TAPPER: You would be getting ready, and you would be, you know, beginning to lay into the Democratic nominee, and everybody anticipated it was Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump has been spending the last few days talking about Vince Foster, how that maybe was a murder, people say, talking about Clinton scandals, Bill Clinton scandals from the '90s.

What would you be talking about right now if you were the nominee?

RUBIO: I -- I think what I just said, and that is, what is Hillary Clinton but an extension of the past?

I mean, she has no new ideas about the future. For her, her whole entire campaign is about, we're going to do all the stuff Barack Obama is doing, we're just going to keep doing it, maybe even more of it. We're going to make Obamacare, which is a disaster, bigger. We're going to continue, you know, all of his policies on energy.

You know, he wants to put coal out of business completely, those kinds of things.

I mean, that shows you the vulnerability that -- that Hillary has in this election. Not only is she incredibly unpopular, but she really has no agenda on which to sell the American people.

If you like the way things are going, hire me because I'll keep it on?

I mean that's -- that's -- I don't think it's a winning message.

TAPPER: I know you've said that you're not going to be the guy who sits back and just takes shots at Donald Trump from now until November.

But what do you think of him or anyone focusing on...


TAPPER: ... scandals of the '90s.

RUBIO: Well, look, number -- that's not the way I would have conducted the campaign, because that's not who I am, right? This is who Donald is. This is how he does things. And at this point, I don't think he should change if he's been successful.

I may not like that direction, but, at this point, he won and this is the direction that he won on.

That said, I mean the Clintons are hard people to feel sorry for. I mean, they have very basically carried out 30 years of character assassination on virtually anyone who's ever run against them for anything. They tried to do it to Barack Obama. They did it to anyone who's ever spoken out against the Clintons in the past.

So, I don't really feel sorry for the Clintons, and getting a taste of the medicine they've been dishing out for the better part of 30 years and their involvement in American politics.

TAPPER: Your position when I interviewed you a few weeks ago was that you are going to honor your commitment to endorse the Republican nominee. You had signed that pledge, but that you weren't taking back anything that you had said during the campaign in terms of your concerns about him being erratic and more.

Is that still your position?

RUBIO: Look, I -- everything I said during the campaign, I meant.

But the -- again, the elections -- I spend my entire life telling people, vote. You have to vote. You can't stay home, often saying to people, at the end, it doesn't even matter who you vote for. Just participate in the process, although I want you to vote for whoever I have tried to convince them to vote for.

How can I now go around saying, don't vote, stay home, abstain? I respect people that have reached a different conclusion. I'm not criticizing them. Everyone here in this very unusual year is going to have to make their own choice moving forward.

But, in my view, I know this. Despite all my differences with Donald Trump, I have a better chance to get a conservative-nominated Supreme Court with him than I ever will with Hillary Clinton. If we pass -- the Senate and the Congress passes a law to repeal Obamacare, Donald Trump will sign it. Hillary Clinton will veto it.


If you talk about rolling back some of these damaging regulations to our economy, Donald Trump will support that. Hillary Clinton will oppose it. Those things matter. These are important issues.

TAPPER: Are you surprised by how close the race is right now in polls between Trump and Hillary?


I think that the Republican voter is coalescing around Donald. I mean, he's the Republican nominee. He's no longer being attacked by his Republican rivals, and they're coalescing around the reality that this is a binary choice.

Hillary is still engaged in an all-out war with Bernie Sanders, who while he may not be able to win on delegates, is going to make his point all the way through the convention. And so I'm not surprised.

I also believe -- and also did -- that, in the end, when it all settles down and gravity takes hold, it's going to be a very close election, decided in about 12 states in this country, and that Donald has a 50/50 chance, if not a little better, to win, based on how unpopular Hillary Clinton is.

TAPPER: When we last spoke, you said that you were not yet sure what you were doing, if you were even attending the Republican Convention in Cleveland.

Have you made a decision?

RUBIO: Yes. My sense is, I'm going to go to the convention.

TAPPER: You are?

RUBIO: And I don't know if I will have a role in the convention, but I have a lot of people going there that were supporters.

TAPPER: But if Donald Trump asked to you speak on his behalf, you would do so?

RUBIO: I would certainly -- yes. I want to be helpful. I don't want to be harmful, because I don't want Hillary Clinton to be president.

Look, my policy differences with Donald Trump, I spent 11 months talking about them. So, I think they are well-understood. That said, I don't want Hillary Clinton to be president. If there's something I can do to help that from happening and it's helpful to the cause, I would most certainly be honored to be considered for that.

TAPPER: With all due respect, though, it -- it wasn't just policy differences that you had with him. You had issues about his temperament and his personality...

RUBIO: Yes, and -- and I said that I still do. I have real issues with the way that he conducted himself at certain aspects of this campaign, throughout the campaign. That remains.

He's now the Republican nominee, or presumptive nominee, and will be the nominee. And I think he has an opportunity now to enter a second phase in this campaign.

But, again, I don't know. I don't -- I haven't been asked any role in the -- in the convention. I don't know of any role. But, irrespective, I intend to go because I have people who are supporters of mine who I want to interact with and -- and -- and be a part of.

So, my sense is I'll be there for a few days, and who knows?

TAPPER: Are you planning on releasing your delegates?

RUBIO: Yes, in fact, basically, technically, have already, because Donald is going to have the majority number. And at that point, it will be irrelevant. So, if we haven't done so already, we will. We'll release the delegates.

TAPPER: Maybe you're doing it right this moment by the...


RUBIO: Yes, though I won't even -- my sense of it, the way these conventions have always gone before, is there's going to be a move, you know, nominate him acclamation, in essence, with no opposition. And I'm not going to stand in the way of that.

TAPPER: Let's just talk about Donald Trump. I know you're probably sick of talking about Donald Trump, but he was such a force in this campaign.


TAPPER: Did you think it was a joke when he announced? Did you think...

RUBIO: You know, people forget that, in 2012, when he threatened to run, at one point, he was the first in the polls, and that was -- people forget that. I didn't.

I saw it. And if you read some of the postmortems of the 2012 race, one of the folks, I forgot which one it was, but they write about how close he came to running then. And so I never took it as a joke. I think we all underestimated the potential his campaign had, because no one that behaved that way, spoke that way, or acted that way had ever mounted a serious challenge for the presidency in the history of America.

You had had people that kind of looked like that, and after a while, they lost steam. And -- but we never had anything like that before, you know? And so what you learn from this process, though, is that, in American politics and for presidential races, those early states aren't just important. They set the tone for everything that happens after.

They definitely have an impact on the next state down the line. And I think, even though he finished in second in Iowa -- and there was a lot of doubt about his campaign when he finished in second -- he did well in New Hampshire. He won South Carolina, he won Nevada, and that steamroll got going, and momentum -- winning begets winning.

I've benefited from it. I benefited from it after Iowa, and I was hurt by it too.

TAPPER (voice-over): Rubio says Trump hit a vein of economic frustration that was years in the making.

RUBIO: I think there's a significant percentage of Americans out there that have been voting Republican for a while who feel very disenchanted about the direction of the country.

And, primarily, these are working people. They work really hard. They pay their bills, and they're upset that no one is fighting for them, right?

Everybody else -- they turn on the news, every other group in America, someone is helping them out, but they -- no one -- they feel like no one is fighting for them.

The economy keeps getting worse. They lost the value of their homes. They feel like Wall Street has failed them. You know, the -- the big institutions and captains of industry that we once held up as heroes in America are people that increasingly walk out of buildings in handcuffs for cheat -- cheating -- the stock broker of -- cheating shareholders.

And then government has failed them. No matter who they elect, nothing changes.

And so that frustration was there. And I think you saw hints of it in the Huckabee campaign in '08. I think you saw hints of it in the Tea Party in '10. I think you saw hints of it in Rick Santorum's campaign in 2012.


But I think Donald Trump was able to tap into that and get those people who normally didn't vote in primaries to vote in primaries in large numbers. And it gave him that early boost that got him going on the momentum front. And then the rest, of course, from there, it snowballed.

TAPPER (on camera): Donald Trump has gotten a lot of support from a lot of good, God-fearing Americans. He's also gotten a lot of support from some -- some pretty scary dudes, the white nationalists out there and the like.

Before some of the primaries, some of these hate groups did robo-calls in his behalf: Make sure to elect Donald Trump and not the Cubans.

Did that -- did you ever hear about that stuff?

RUBIO: I did.

And, you know, it's offensive, and not just against me, but the fact that elements like that are still involved in American politics, and, traditionally, the candidate would disavow that and say, I want nothing to do with that. I don't want that as part of my campaign, and I...

TAPPER: He didn't.

RUBIO: He didn't. And I didn't like that, and I said that at the time. And it is what it is.

Obviously, I don't believe that Donald Trump's a white nationalist. I don't believe that those -- that those are his views, but I do think it's unfortunate that people like that have found the ability to express themselves in this way in a campaign, and that I didn't like it, but I -- if it wasn't against me, I wouldn't have liked it.

I just don't really think there's a place for that in our party and in our country.

TAPPER: When did you realize that he was not just the latest Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann fad of the month, that he was actually -- he had staying power?

RUBIO: You know, after the first debate...

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: You've called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.


KELLY: Your Twitter account...

TRUMP: Only Rosie O'Donnell.


RUBIO: His performance looked nothing like anything I'd ever seen, and, from my view, it wasn't a very good debate. It didn't inform people on anything.

And all these online polls kept showing him as the winner. And then the polls came out, and it showed that he had maintained his position. And that was the first time that I think you sensed, you know what, it doesn't really matter.

I mean, he's figured out something about the electorate that's going to allow him to survive in ways no one else on the stage will be able to do.

TAPPER: In his first speech announcing his candidacy, he described Mexican -- the Mexicans coming over the border as rapists and drug dealers.

TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

TAPPER: Did it personally offend you? I know you're not Mexican, but you are Latino.


No, it's an offensive comment. There's no doubt about it that's an offensive comment, and, by the way, highly inaccurate.

But here's the trap you're in, right? If you respond to it, he's getting what he wants. I mean, that's why he's sometimes saying this, to dominate the cycle. I mean, and that -- and he -- I don't give him credit for what he said, but I give him credit for the way he understands this stuff.

I mean, Donald Trump, we underestimated how well he understood how the media -- and I don't mean this -- it's very common for political people to attack media people, but it's just the way it is. Media is a business, and it's driven by ratings, and that's how -- based on your ratings is what you can charge your advertisers, and so this content is interesting content.

It's different, and it's over the top, and it drives eyeballs and ears to hear what people are saying and see it. Donald understood that. So he said these outrageous things. If you respond to it, it's just giving more fuel to the fire. There will be more coverage about it. If you don't respond to it, then it's someone who's basically looking the other way, so you're kind of in a bind.

RUBIO: He's a con artist.

TAPPER (voice-over): But crouched in a defensive position after a string of disappointing primary results, Rubio let loose on the stump.

RUBIO: Donald is not going to make America great. He's going to make America orange.


TAPPER: And made this remarkable knock on the Republican front- runner.

RUBIO: And you know what they say about men with small hands. You can't trust them. You can't trust them.

TAPPER: That, of course, led to Trump assuring us all at the next debate:

TRUMP: I guarantee you, there's no problem. I guarantee you.

TAPPER (on camera): In one way, you are responsible for an unprecedented movement in American politics, when Donald Trump went on stage and assured the American people that there was no problem, regardless of the size of his hands. "I guarantee you."

RUBIO: Well, and you know what? And I actually...

TAPPER: To be fair to him, you raised that issue.

RUBIO: I did.

And so -- and I actually told Donald at one of the debates, I forget which one -- I apologized to him for that. I said, you know, I'm sorry that I said that. It's not who I am and I shouldn't have done it.

And I didn't say it in front of the cameras. I didn't want any political benefit. I'm not a candidate now, so I can say that to you, because -- not because of him, but because of me. You know, I didn't like what it reflected on me. It embarrassed my family. It's not who I am.

And you did it almost in a sense of, you know, nothing -- at this point, you know, nothing is working. This guy is out there every day making -- mocking people, saying horrible things about people, but if you respond to him, somehow you're beneath -- you're hitting below the belt?

And that was my sense of it at the time. What I didn't realize was, it isn't who I am. And if you're not being who you are, it doesn't come across well. And he can do that, because, for whatever reason, he can do that. But I couldn't do that. It's not who I am. It's not what I do.

And by doing it, I ended up hurting myself, not him.


TAPPER: What was the decision like to actually just kind of let loose and unleash and...

RUBIO: There wasn't any meeting. It was -- or anybody in my staff. It was kind of, enough is enough. I mean, this guy is literally out there every day mocking people for their appearance, for this, for that, and someone needs to stand up to this guy.

And, eventually, somebody's got to step forward and say, we're going to put an end to this. And had I not been a candidate, maybe that would have been the right thing to do, but, in essence, I think it was -- I don't think it cost me the election, but I most certainly don't think it helped us.

And -- but here's the interesting thing -- after I did that, for about four days, every one of my speeches was covered live on cable.


RUBIO: They all broke in to cover my speeches in case I said something else.

So, I don't know. I mean, what is that saying?


TAPPER: Coming up: It was the moment that got him tagged as robotic Rubio -- why he thinks that one moment at a debate could have cost him the entire election.


RUBIO: If I had to do it over again, I just would have gone after him and attacked his record.

We would have had a better result in New Hampshire. I most certainly think the race's trajectory might have looked dramatically different.




TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Presidential campaigns are built upon moments. And, boy, has this one had more than its fair share. But, while most of those moments play out on television, we rarely hear from the candidates themselves what was playing out in their own heads, until now.

Marco Rubio revealing just what he was thinking during the highs and lows of his campaign.


TAPPER (voice-over): On the night Marco Rubio was first elected to the U.S. Senate, Governor Jeb Bush was overcome with emotion.

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Marco Rubio makes me cry for joy.

TAPPER: The two Florida Republicans seemed at the time unusually close.

RUBIO: When Jeb Bush was an -- you look up the words leadership, and there's a picture of him in the dictionary. He led this state for eight years in an extraordinary way.

TAPPER: So, many were surprised when Rubio decided to buck convention and run against his mentor, Bush.

RUBIO: But inspired by the promise of our future, I announce my candidacy for the president of the United States.


TAPPER (on camera): I know that it's a complicated situation you have with him. You told some people that you weren't going to run if Jeb run -- ran.

This was a long time ago. And then, ultimately, you decided you had to do what you needed to do.

RUBIO: Yes. And it wasn't because it was against Jeb.

TAPPER: Right.

RUBIO: I mean, if he was the incumbent president, I wouldn't have done that, obviously.

And it wasn't because I was trying to prevent Jeb Bush from being president.

But, ultimately, I really felt passionately that I had something to contribute to the campaign and a message that no one else was articulating, and that this was not just about what I was told to do next with my life, but about what the party needed to be and where the country needed to go.

And that's why I chose to run. And in a presidential primary, with so many people running, I never viewed Jeb Bush as my direct competitor. I viewed him as one of a number of people who were aspiring to the same job, and, ultimately, voters were going to decide.

But it was hard. There's no doubt about it.

TAPPER: You must have gamed it out, though. You must have thought, well, I could not run, but this is, timing-wise, a better time for me. And that's what politics -- it's all about timing.

RUBIO: Yes, I mean part of it was -- was colored by the fact that I had spent four years in the Senate under Harry Reid, and nothing happens in the Senate under Harry Reid. I think it's different now, and we're starting to see movement.

You can actually -- there is a -- there is a palpable difference, especially since I've come back from the campaign, where, if I have an idea, I actually have a chance to somehow work it.

When Harry -- for the first four years I was in the Senate, I -- it's hard to describe to people, we would rock -- fly up on Monday, sign onto a bunch of letters, give some floor speeches. There wasn't even votes sometimes.

We vote more in one month than we did in four years in -- in the first four years you were here under Harry Reid.

And that's not what I signed up for. That's not what I thought -- the Senate I thought I was joining was a Senate where you actually had a platform to get things happening.

So, it was a lot of frustration about that, combined with this unique opportunity to lend my voice at a time where I really believed passionately the country needed to lead in a certain direction that -- ultimately, that pushed me to run. TAPPER (voice-over): Things got ugly with Bush in a very public way, after Rubio memorably took down his one-time mentor on the debate stage, after Bush attacked him for missing some Senate votes.

BUSH: He's a gifted politician.

But, Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work.

RUBIO: You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you're now modeling after?

BUSH: He wasn't my senator.

RUBIO: No, Jeb, I don't remember -- well, let me tell you, I don't remember you ever complaining about John McCain's vote record. The only reason why you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.

TAPPER (on camera): It was a powerful moment.

Did you -- had you prepared for that?

RUBIO: Well, I knew that that was the charges that were being levied.

And I always found them -- look, I didn't -- I don't like missing votes. I didn't like it during the campaign. But the reality of it is, if you're going to be a competitive and credible candidate, then you're going to have to spend time away from the Senate.

And so, you know, but I knew the attack would come, given what was being said. But, you know, what is interesting about that moment, I didn't take any great pleasure in it, like, oh, I really stuck it to him. I didn't even think it was that big a deal during the debate.

It was only after that I realized people had kind of built it up into this moment. But I didn't...

TAPPER: You hadn't prepared that, like -- you were -- the only reason you're doing this is because somebody told you to do it?

RUBIO: Well, I had -- I had actually said that before, not in -- in private settings, when people asked me about it and his attack.

So I kind of knew that was an issue that was being addressed, and certainly was prepared to address it if it came up, but I didn't initiate it.

TAPPER: Have you talked to him?

RUBIO: To Jeb?

I don't remember the last time I did. But I've spoken to him a couple of times since the campaign ended, sure. Yes.

TAPPER: Is it pleasant?

RUBIO: Sure.

TAPPER: Is it awkward?

RUBIO: No. I mean...

TAPPER: Is it...

RUBIO: ... I think he's gone back -- I mean, I don't want to speak for him, you know...

TAPPER: No, but are you guys going to be able to be friends again?

RUBIO: Sure. I hope so. I mean, I certainly have always said -- that never changed for me, and...

TAPPER: But I think it changed for him. I mean he's...

RUBIO: Well, I don't -- I don't know.

TAPPER: He and his team thought you were Judas, right?

RUBIO: Well, I think that's...

TAPPER: I mean...

RUBIO: Yes, look, that might be true for -- look, people in your campaign, you know, take things hard and react a certain way.

I'm not sure that reflected on Jeb. Certainly, the two interactions or three I've had with him were pleasant and fine.

TAPPER: I know that this is all, you know, as -- what does Hyman Roth say in "The Godfather?" This is the business we've chosen.


TAPPER: But, by the same token, sometimes, it does get personal.

But it really did seem like Chris Christie disliked you.

RUBIO: It could be. I don't know. I hope not. I don't dislike him.


In the end, I -- my sense is -- or I prefer to believe anyways, and -- and my sense is hopefully this is true -- that he viewed me as a threat to an ambition that he had. He had a goal. He viewed me as an obstacle to it, and in a campaign, you go after people.

But I don't think he ever went after me on something that's unfair.

TAPPER (voice-over): And boy, did Chris Christie go after him.

RUBIO: And let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing.

Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing.

This notion that Barack Obama what he's doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he's doing.

CHRISTIE: There it is. There it is, the memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.

RUBIO: Well, that's the -- that's the reason why this campaign is so important.

TAPPER (on camera): What was going through your mind when Christie said that?

RUBIO: Yes, it was a mistake, because I knew he would come at me, and he had a little bit in an earlier debate.

And I had made the decision going into that debate -- and, in hindsight, it was a mistake -- and that was Chris is going to attack me.

I mean, I knew what the polls were. He wasn't doing well in New Hampshire. He might be gone by, you know, Tuesday, depending on how the election went.

And I didn't see any benefit to me in getting into a long -- I didn't want the story of the debate to be Rubio and Christie slug it out in ugly debate back and forth.

So, my strategy was, you know what, kind of address it at the front end, and then just kind of pivot to your core message, because the argument he was making is, I had no background, no experience, I had never done anything. And my point was, you know, Barack Obama, people say he doesn't know what he's doing. I believe he knows what he's doing.

I mean, he is deliberately changing these things about our government and its role in our society in order to achieve an outcome that he wants.

And -- and so that was the strategy I went in with.

Unfortunately, I think, in any other debate, in any other environment, it might not have been a big deal, but it was, because that was the argument Chris was using all week, that I memorize these 20-second sound bites and I repeat them over and over. And that's what I did.

And so it walked right into that trap. And there was a fundamental argument being made against me by Chris Christie, that -- largely being picked up in the media. I think voters of his town halls were hearing this as well, that Rubio is just reading something somebody wrote for him. They wrote him this piece of paper. He's memorized it, and he's just going to say it over and over again. Those aren't even maybe even his own thoughts. And I honestly -- I could have answered the question the same way I did, but used different words, and the outcome would have been different. It was a mistake. I mean I -- I didn't handle that...

TAPPER: You should have -- you mean you should have taken him directly...

RUBIO: Well, I think the easiest thing, in hindsight, if I had to do it over again, I just would have gone after him and attacked his record, as I had done at a previous debate.

And the headlines would have been Rubio and Christie go at it, and...

TAPPER: Better headline?

RUBIO: Oh, no doubt. Yes.

I think we would have had a better result in New Hampshire. I think we would have. And all the indications leading up to that night were that we would have.

So, it was a pivotal moment for that reason, not -- not -- and I admit that it was. And it was -- it was on me.

I did not do well on Saturday night. So, listen to this. That will never happen again.


RUBIO: I don't think voters said, I'm not voting for him because I heard him say the same thing four times at a debate.

Here's what it did do. It consumed the coverage for 72 hours leading into New Hampshire, and, as a result, really hurt us there, and we finished in fifth. Had a we finished in second, I think we'd go into South Carolina with maybe a four-person or five-person race.

Instead, you know, Jeb was still in the race. Others were -- Kasich was still in the race. And -- and I think that ultimately hurt us in South Carolina and beyond.

I think, if we had finished in second in New Hampshire, I'm not sure Donald Trump wouldn't have been the nominee anyway, but I most certainly think the race's trajectory might have looked dramatically different.

But -- but it didn't, and there's a reason why we have campaigns.


TAPPER: Regrets, he has a few.

What was the one bit of advice Marco Rubio wishes he had taken?


RUBIO: I think that was good advice. And I had to do it over again, I would have been more sensitive to that advice.




TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

In the final days of Senator Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, he did what no other candidate had done, responding to Donald Trump's insults with some of his own. And he seemed like he was having a pretty good time doing it.


TAPPER (voice-over): In the final days of February, Rubio was on the attack. Lashing out at Trump with glee.

RUBIO: He went backstage. He was having a meltdown. First he had his little makeup thing applying like, makeup around his mustache, because he had one of those sweat mustaches. Then he asked for a full length mirror, I don't know why because the podium goes up to here, but he wanted a full length mirror. Maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet. I don't know.

TAPPER: But he says he knew the Trump phenomenon had already doomed his campaign.

TAPPER (on camera): He had the ability to do negative branding and really destroyed Jeb Bush with the low energy Jeb thing, "lying Ted."

RUBIO: Little Marco?


TAPPER: You were little Marco. Do you think that hurt you?

RUBIO: No, I don't.

TAPPER: Really?

RUBIO: Yes, I really don't. I mean, I don't think people voted for me because I was called little Marco. Maybe call someone a liar, that's a character flawed. You say someone, you know, has low energy, that means this person's not really motivated --


TAPPER: You don't think it fed into -- he's not ready, he's not prepared, he's --

RUBIO: It might have a little bit, but in the end -- you know, by the time he started doing that, we were kind of in a very bad spot in the campaign. Super Tuesday was, to me, a key night in the race for us. All these states voting at once -- and we won in Minnesota that night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, so by the time I got coverage, really got lost in the three earlier hours, had made up their mind, I had this terrible night, and we came really close in Virginia. One of the strategic things I wish I would have done differently is spend more time and resources in Virginia where we actually had a chance to win, because I think if we had won Virginia, the coverage would have looked different that night. And I keep going back to coverage, but in this race, it was followed that way.

In many ways, I had people tell me this after -- it was like watching "American Idol" where every week somebody got voted off this island. You had a debate every couple weeks and then someone got voted off and then a couple of weeks, had another debate, and some other people got voted off. And I hate to describe the presidential run as that but that's how a lot of people kind of consumed this campaign.


And for us, the coverage after Super Tuesday was very debilitating. Once people made up their mind that I wasn't going to win, you know, you could see kind of the air leave the balloon.

TAPPER (voice-over): Rubio knew the campaign was essentially already over.

RUBIO: That period of time between Super Tuesday and Florida where no matter what we did, it didn't matter. It didn't matter what we did it at the debate, it didn't matter how hard you worked, we couldn't move the needle, was the toughest part of the campaign, that 10 or 15 day period.

TAPPER: But he held out until his home state of Florida voted.

RUBIO: It was an incredible privilege and honor to be able to vote for myself for president just a few blocks from where I grew up.

TAPPER: Donald Trump won...

TRUMP: Florida was so amazing.

TAPPER: ... in a landslide.

TAPPER (on camera): Is it hard to lose your home (ph) state?

RUBIO: It is. And -- but it's also understanding -- I've always understood about Florida. Florida is a momentum state. It's what it's always been.

By the time we got there, especially after Super Tuesday, the negativity about our progress was so bad that a lot of voters, I think, concluded, you know, he's not going to win. Trump is going to win. Trump is doing well. And that momentum really impacted Florida.

I'm not sure there was anything we could have done at that stage about it, to change that trajectory. Momentum is real in Florida in particular is a state where momentum in a presidential primary has always carried significant weight. TAPPER: Did you know that you were going to lose and that you were going to probably drop out that night?

RUBIO: I knew that if we did, it was probably very difficult to continue in the race for a number of reasons. The first, it kind of felt like the right way -- if you were going to drop out of the race, you had a chance to do it in your own hometown, in your home state, in front of all the people you've known for all your life. You gave it the best chance you could.

I didn't see any benefit in moving forward from there beyond and to other states, given -- and I felt like, you know, if someone else has a better chance to kind of be the conservative that's elected, let them go out and try to do that. They're in a stronger position than we are.

So I knew that if we lost -- and I said, basically intimated that I thought the winner of the Florida primary would be the nominee, and I was proven right in that regard. We had the sense that if it didn't work out well that night I knew that that was the right thing to do. I felt at peace with that.

TAPPER: Obviously you can't go through an experience like this without hearing incredibly emotional storied and heart-rending stories from voters. Were there any that stand out to you?

RUBIO: Well, you know, the -- you run into, for example, in New Hampshire, the mothers whose sons or daughters either had died or were in risk of losing their lives to addiction and those stories are heartbreaking, because I'm a parent. And I, you know, at one point, that child was a little baby being held in the arms of their mother or father who loved them and saw in them the future of a better life and all the things that have gone wrong for them they want it good for their children.

And now 20 years later these children are struggling with addition or perhaps have died. And those are always heartbreaking. It's one of the reasons I didn't drop out before Florida.

We have people working really hard for me. And I wasn't going to quit on them. And they hadn't quit on me.

TAPPER: Did your wife cry? Did you get upset?

RUBIO: No. I mean, I wasn't happy about losing but I felt like you feel after an athletic competition. You know, you work as hard as you can, you do the best that you can, and if it didn't work out, it didn't work out, but at least you gave it everything you had.

I gave it everything I had. Now, were there things we'd do differently? Absolutely.

TAPPER: One of the things about campaigns I know is that there's no shortage of people giving you advice, whether donors or supporters or activists or members of the media or whomever. Is there any bit of advice you can look back on that you wish you had taken? RUBIO: Yes. So you think about the advice a lot of people said is, you know, you need to spend more time on the ground in New Hampshire and Iowa. We spent a lot of time, more than people think we did. We spent a lot of time. I think that was good advice. And if I had to do it over again, I would have been more sensitive to that advice.

But here is the reality. We had no national finance work. And I couldn't raise money in Florida because Jeb is dominating that. So I had to go across the country and meet people. And it wasn't just like you show up one day and they give you money. It's like you have got to meet them one time, then you have got to go back a second time to convince them to give you money. And then you have got to go a third time to kind of pick it up.

So in hindsight, sure, I mean, I wish that we've had a national finance network that we could have easily flipped the switch on and would have required me to travel less for finance and be able to spend more time in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina earlier in the process. I think we did the best we could given that reality.

And I've never learned from success, I've learned from failure. So I'll learn from this. And whether I run for president again one day or run for something else or -- do this in the business world, there are lessons I will take from this that will make me stronger and better as a result.


TAPPER: Coming up next, for now Marco Rubio is back at his day job in the U.S. Senate. But the deadline for him to run for reelection for that seat is fast approaching, as pressure inside Congress builds for him to run for reelection. Why won't he run again?


RUBIO: I don't hate my job in the Senate. It's one of the great blessings I've had in my life.

TAPPER: So why are you leaving it? Why are you walking away?




TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Top Republicans tell CNN they're getting nervous that they might lose Marco Rubio's Senate seat and their fragile majority if he does not run for reelection. Behind the scenes pressure is building on Rubio to reconsider his decision to leave Washington, D.C.


TAPPER: So I know that it has not escaped your notice that you still could theoretically run for reelection for your seat...


TAPPER: ... for your Senate seat. I think somebody reminded you of that. And you turned around and said, what's the date?

RUBIO: June 24th.

TAPPER: June 24th is the deadline.

RUBIO: It's a joke.

TAPPER: I know, it's a joke. But would you ever?

RUBIO: You know, it's interesting. If my term had ended in 2018 instead of 2016, I might very well run for reelection. One of the things that bothers me the most was that article. It still bothers me in October saying Marco Rubio hates the Senate. Someone who knows him really well told us so. It just isn't true.


I've never said those words to anyone in my life. I hated the way Harry Reid ran the Senate. I was frustrated at the way the Senate was operating. But I don't hate my job in the Senate. It's one of the great blessings I've had in my life.


TAPPER: So why are you leaving it? Why are you walking away?

RUBIO: Well, because when I ran for president, I really believed this. I really believed that if you're going to run for president, you're running for president. You're not saying to yourself or your team, but guys remember, I don't want to leave the Senate. So if things don't start working out well, we need to get out of this race as quickly as possible so I can get back to running --


TAPPER ... that is your position...


RUBIO: And the other is, look, I have a real good friend I've known for a long time who is running for the Senate. I didn't run. I said I wasn't going to. He got into the race. He's a lieutenant governor of Florida. I think he's a strong -- Carlos Lopez-Cantera. He's a strong candidate. He's in the race. I'm not going to -- I'm not -- I think he's put in time and energy to it and he deserves the chance to see where he can take it.

TAPPER: If you didn't have a friend running, might you reconsider?

RUBIO: Maybe. I mean the --

TAPPER: He's a friend? He's an actual friend, not a politics friend like (INAUDIBLE)?

RUBIO: Oh, yes. No, personal. I've known him since the Dole campaign in '95-'96, as college students. So -- and but sure. I mean, maybe. I mean, I enjoy my work in the Senate. I enjoy it tremend -- I always did. I never --


TAPPER: Why are you ruling out running for governor in two years?

RUBIO: Well, because ultimately that would mean leaving the Senate and immediately beginning a campaign, number one. Number two, I don't think you run for positions because they're available. You run for a position because you're passionate about what you can contribute.

And being governor of Florida is a very important position. But it's not something, at least at this moment, and I don't anticipate that's going to change, in fact I'm pretty sure it won't, I don't have at this moment anyways this burning desire to run for that office or some other office.

TAPPER: But the way you talk about what you're doing in the Senate and how you want to change people's lives when it comes to Zika, when it comes to human rights in Venezuela, when it comes to the opioid epidemic in this country, you do sound like you're passionate about public service.

RUBIO: Sure. I mean, there's a sense of purpose in getting up in the morning and saying, I just found out about something it's really bad and I have an ability to do something about it, to call attention to it.

TAPPER: So why are you walking away from...

RUBIO: From?

TAPPER: ... public service at --


RUBIO: Well, I don't know. I mean, I'm not saying I'm walking away. If there's an opportunity for me to run in the future and it's right for my family, I'll consider it.

But I also -- there's other things I wouldn't mind doing with my life. And it's not just about making money.

TAPPER: Would it be your dream job to be NFL --

RUBIO: Yes. I mean, look, the NFL commissioner is probably, in many ways, more powerful than the president. Like you can suspend people without due process kind of thing. But, you know, they promote from within, so it's probably too late for me to be the commissioner of the NFL.

TAPPER: You don't -- you would take it, though, in a second? RUBIO: I say I would. I don't -- maybe when I found out all that it entails, not so. But look, I say that. I love the NFL and I think it's a great brand. I love the game of football. And yes, I mean, who wouldn't want that job?

But in the end, I mean, I really do enjoy the ability to do something, the sense of purpose that comes with public service. And I would imagine that even as NFL commissioner I'd be sitting there one day, pick up the newspaper and say, I wish I could do something about that. And not even the NFL commissioner can do something about Zika.

TAPPER: So you're willing to go to Cleveland. You're willing to speak if appropriate. You want to do whatever you can to defeat Hillary Clinton, and you like public service.

Is the door still closed to being Donald Trump's vice president?

RUBIO: It is, because in my view, that wouldn't be the right choice for him.

You know, Donald I think deserves to have a vice president, he's earned the nomination, and he deserves to have a running mate that more fully embraces some of the things he stands for. I mean, I want him to be successful, because if he's successful that means Hillary Clinton didn't win. But we have real policy differences on foreign policy and on some other issues.

And I think he just -- he would be better served by having someone more aligned with him on some of these things or someone who didn't run against him and had some of the interaction that we had. You know, if I were his running mate, you could see the ads now, where they'd be playing back my words and saying, you said this about him then but now you're saying something different.

So, I just think it's best for him, for the party and for the ticket to have someone that more fully embraces his views on some of these things.

TAPPER: So we should definitely think that like those of us who cover politics and those of your fans who are watching this right now, that this is not the end of it for you. Like you will -- you think you will likely run if not for president again, something that will (INAUDIBLE) --

RUBIO: Yes. I think that's a safe assumption. But I don't know where I'm going to be in two years.

I mean, check back in two years. That's always the caveat. Two years from now, perhaps, I'm working on a project I don't want to walk away from or maybe there's a situation to realize with my kids that I need to spend more time.

But my kids did extraordinarily well in this race. I tell people all the time, you know, just a few months after I ran, I mean, it's -- you know, it's like -- it has been mostly a positive experience for them. I mean, the time away was not maybe the most positive, but beyond it, I mean, for them it was a great experience.

I mean, they want to go to the Iowa State Fair this year. I'm like, we can't do that, guys. People are going to think it's a political thing, but maybe we will because they had a lot of fun.

So who knows what's around the corner? I don't know. I can tell you I enjoyed public service. If there's an opportunity to serve again in a way that I feel passionate about I'll most certainly think I'd explore it. But I don't know where I'm going to be in two years, I don't know what my life will look like then.



TAPPER: Coming up, Donald Trump on a motorcycle? It could happen this weekend in Washington. We'll tell you why.



TAPPER: Welcome back, and best wishes to you on this Memorial Day. Across the country this weekend, there are celebrations of our military's heroes in memorials to those lost in battle.

Here in Washington it's less about a moment of silence and more about the roar of thousands of bikers who will roll through the streets of the nation's capital today to raise awareness for POWs and those missing in action. Making an appearance at this year's Rolling Thunder Run one Mr. Donald J. Trump. No word on whether Trump will get on a motorcycle himself.


Thanks for spending your Sunday with us, you can catch me here every Sunday and weekdays on " THE LEAD" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. You can go to for extras from the show.

I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.


I am wishing you a meaningful Memorial Day weekend.