More than 400 wealthy Republican donors received a preview Sunday of the economic and foreign policy positions of three presumed presidential candidates, GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, during the American Recovery Policy Forum organized by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a free-market group affiliated with billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
The senators shared a stage in California where they offered their takes on Cuba, Iran and the U.S. economy, with the trio hammering the president on the latter.
Rubio and Cruz, both Cuban-Americans, came out strong against President Barack Obama’s December announcement that the U.S. would be normalizing relations with Cuba, according to The Hill.
Both men’s families fled the island nation for freedom in the United States.
Obama’s decision to lift the 50-year embargo with Cuba is another example of him alienating and abandoning our friends and appeasing our enemies, said Cruz, who told the group his father was "imprisoned and tortured" by the Cuban government, The Hill reported.
Rubio voiced similar sentiments, while Paul argued that the embargo has been a failure and that the U.S has relations with "countless" regimes that also commit human rights violations, according to The Washington Post.
He surprised the crowd when he accused Rubio and Cruz of being isolationists, a term typically applied to Paul
and his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a 1988 Republican presidential candidate and a hardcore libertarian.
Similarly, Rubio and Cruz agreed that a hard line needs to be taken with Iran, with Cruz boldly characterizing Tehran’s leaders as "radical Islamic nutcases" and saying that "stopping the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism 'required' more stick and less carrot," according to The Hill.
Rubio said he was "skeptical about negotiating with someone who has openly said he wants to force all of us to either be like him or die," referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"Nothing should ever be off the table," Rubio said.
At the current snail’s-pace of U.S. sanctions, Iran can continue to enrich uranium and "in five years we’re going to build the bomb for them," he added.
Paul made clear that he doesn’t trust the president, but again disagreed with his counterparts’ position, insisting that more sanctions would cause Tehran to further withdraw, increasing the likelihood of conflict.
"I do not trust the president, I don’t believe or support him on almost anything he does, but at the same time, I think diplomacy is better than war and we should give diplomacy a chance," he said, according to the Post.
"The place has been a mess for 1,000 years, you have to think about what the practical results will be of not negotiating."
The men expressed united positions on one subject: Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is the presumed Democratic front-runner for the party’s nomination in 2016.
"I have to say I chuckle every time I hear Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton talk about income inequality because it’s increased dramatically under their policies," Cruz said, according to Politico.
Rubio said electing "the architect of Obama’s foreign policy" would be a mistake, while Paul referred to "Hillary’s war in Libya" as a "disaster," the Post reported.
Both Politico and The Hill heaped praise on Rubio’s performance, noting that he was the only one of the three men to wear a suit to the event and that he came across "well-rehearsed" with detailed responses.
"Rubio may have done the most to boost his presidential chances with his performance, even though it’s very early in the presidential testing game," according to The Hill.
On Friday, a Rubio adviser told ABC News that the senator
was preparing for a White House bid in 2016, the same day a Zogby poll showed Rubio jumped in the polls to tie for second with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 13 percent.
In that poll, Rubio and Bush trail 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney by three points.
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