Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio blasted rival Sen. Ted Cruz as being weak on national security and siding with “isolationists.”
Mr. Rubio said that his Senate colleague form Texas “talks tough” about fighting terrorism but voted to end the National Security Agency’s phone-snooping program and voted for a budget that slashed defense spending.
“He talks tough on some of these issues, for example he’s going to carpet bomb ISIS. But the only budget he’s ever voted for in his time in the Senate is a budget that cut defense spending by more than Barack Obama proposes we cut it,” Mr. Rubio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“My point is each time he’s had to choose between strong national defense and some of the isolationist tendencies in American politics, he seems to side with the isolationists. This is an important issue to have a debate over. It’s not personal,” the Florida senator said.
The attack coincided with Mr. Cruz’s surge in polls, including a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll released Sunday that showed Mr. Cruz opening a 10-point lead in the early caucus state of Iowa.
Mr. Rubio remains in the top tier of GOP presidential hopefuls. He has battled to second place in several recent polls in New Hampshire, but he continues to be stuck in third place in most national polls.
The Florida senator also toned down his criticism of rival Donald Trump for proposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.
After calling the plan “offensive and outlandish” last week, Mr. Rubio said that it wouldn’t work and the proposal was designed mostly to gain attention for Mr. Trump in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people.
“If you look at the statements he made this week, obviously I think he made them partially to recapture the limelight after having lost it,” he said. “We lost some of the focus on the attacks in San Bernardino and focused on a plan that isn’t really a plan and is never going to happen.”
When pressed, Mr. Rubio insisted that he still believes the plan is offensive and outrageous because it wouldn’t work.
“It violates a lot of the things that we think about our country. But also, the practical reality that in order for us to identify homegrown violent extremism and prevent it or root it out before it takes action, we are going to need the cooperation of Muslim communities in this country,” he said.
“There is a narrative that ISIS and other jihadists pose that this is a war between Muslims and the rest of the world,” continued Mr. Rubio. “And that sort of victimization narrative is something we shouldn’t contribute to. On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that there is a radical element in Islam, jihadism, that needs to be called by name and needs to be confronted.”