The Conservative Political Action Conference is usually reserved for conservatives, which could explain why Donald Trump chose to stay away from this year's event, rival GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio said
during an appearance Saturday at the annual convention.
"Look, either the ideas behind conservatism matter, or they do not," Rubio told CNN's Dana Bash during a question and answer session following his main stage speech before an enthusiastic, filled-to-capacity crowd at the Washington D.C. event, sponsored by the American Conservative Union. "I believe they do. It is not vote for me because I'm angry and more over-the-top."
Trump, who was also to speak at the large annual conservative gathering, backed out at the last minute to hold campaign rallies in Kansas and Florida.
Rubio told Bash that there are many young conservatives like himself, in their 40s and 50s, including Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Susana Martinez serving the country because they grew up in the era of President Ronald Reagan.
"Reagan looked and acted nothing like Donald Trump," said Rubio. "Look at the Democrats. Who is the young up and coming Democrat? Bernie Sanders."
Rubio told Bash that he's been stepping up his words about Trump, including calling him a "con artist and a fraud," but waited until February to start because he was busy fighting off the other candidates who were attacking him.
"I did not get into this to beat up on other candidates," said Rubio. "If you told me a year ago that the front-runner of the Republican campaign would be a supporter of Planned Parenthood, who does not stand with Israel, I would say, on what planet would that be the Republican front runner? It has happened. We have to ask yourself, why have we allow that to happen? "
But despite the line of questions — and the audience's wild reactions following Rubio's answers to them — the Florida senator showed some annoyance toward Bash, saying that Trump is the front-runner because of the media focus on him.
"I have been sitting here for five minutes, and the questions have all been about Donald Trump," Rubio said.
And when Bash reminded him that the questions come because Trump is the front-runner, Rubio replied that he got too much media focus even before that happened.
"Even before he was the front-runner, Donald would offend someone personally, would make fun of a disabled reporter, or attack a woman journalist, and would dominate the news coverage," said Rubio. "I'm not complaining about it. The reason we're talking about is, the other night at the debate, over half the questions I was asked were about my opinion of Donald Trump. I'm running for president because I think the country needs to re-embrace the constitution, re-embrace free enterprise, and re-embrace a strong national defense."
But he said he was "more than happy" to answer another question on attacking Trump.
"Donald Trump may have grown up the way he did, with a lot of money, and going to boarding school," said Rubio. "Where I grew up, if someone is punching someone in the face, eventually someone will have to stand up and punch them back." Fear and anger, though, won't solve any problems, said Rubio during the speech itself.
"Do people have a right to be fearful of the future right now?" he said. "Yes. For over two decades, leaders in neither party have solved the problems before us. People have the right to be angry about every institution in society, absolutely. Neither anger nor fear will solve our problems. It will serve to motivate us, but will not solve our problems."
Rubio also extolled the virtues of conservatism and told the CPAC audience that the 21st century is tailormade for young Americans, who will be devastated if Hillary Clinton or Sanders, or a Republican who is not a conservative wins the White House.
"These young Americans have the chance to fulfill an incredible destiny," Rubio said. "We have to give them the chance. They will not have the chance if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is elected. They won't have the chance if the conservative movement is hijacked by someone who is not a conservative."
"Do we want another president who believes ISIS is not a threat to our nation?" said Rubio. "Another president who thinks citizens don't need to own certain types of weapons? We all know Bernie Sanders would be a disastrous president. Think waiting minds at the DMV, but for everything, health care, taxes. Bernie will politely, and snip our paychecks in half."
Clinton, meanwhile, "tells us we should vote for her because she is a woman," said Rubio. "The reality is real equality for women is not by telling us who to vote for. It is insulting to all the women in this room."
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