If there were any lingering feelings of disappointment after a trying week in New Hampshire, Marco Rubio showed none of them in Sun City Hilton Head on Thursday morning.
The Republican presidential hopeful and U.S. senator from Florida was loose and humorous during the town hall event at Magnolia Hall, with some self-deprecating jokes referring to the stress after he finished fifth in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.
“I’ll be 45 in May, but after last week I feel 55,” he cracked during his opening speech.
Rubio even made reference to the robot branding he acquired after repeating the same talking point three times at a debate in New Hampshire Feb. 10 — when he slammed President Barack Obama for purposefully damaging the country.
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“At the debate I said the same thing three times,” he said. “I’m going to say it again, just for fun. I don’t know why Republicans aren’t saying it.”
Former state education superintendent Barbara Nielsen also seemed to reference the robot dig in her introduction, calling Rubio sincere, authentic and real.
But being robotic may not be an issue, as one audience member helpfully informed Rubio.
As for the robot stuff, let’s keep in mind a Terminator was elected twice in California.
“As for the robot stuff, let’s keep in mind a Terminator was elected twice in California,” said Todd Miller to the amusement of the audience.
Miller, of Rincon, Ga., was one of about 550 attendees at Rubio’s town hall, and sat on stage right behind the candidate. He joked after the event he was going to be Rubio’s vice president and said he had thought of two lines the day before if he was allowed to ask a question — the Terminator line referencing former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar and one referencing Optimus Prime.
“I wasn’t expecting to be on stage,” Miller said. “My wife doesn’t know I’m here. She thinks I’m at work.”
Much like Jeb Bush a day prior, Rubio’s town hall focused primarily on the military. Rubio started his speech by saying he would stop cuts to defense spending and build up the military again to “have a real war on terror.” Rubio added that he was the only candidate in the Republican field with extensive experience in foreign policy and national security, knocking leading Republican candidate Donald Trump in the process.
“Negotiating a hotel deal in another country is not foreign policy experience,” he said.
Negotiating a hotel deal in another country is not foreign policy experience.
Rubio also bashed Trump for his use of profanity during his campaign, just as Bush did during his Sun City rally. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders weren’t safe from criticism either, with Rubio repeatedly taking Clinton to task over her email scandal and Sanders over his socialist ideas.
“Bernie Sanders wants us to be more like a Scandinavian country,” he said. “I have nothing against Scandinavian countries. They’re nice places. Move there.”
Rubio also said he was for making changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to reduce the country’s debt but was against any changes that would cut benefits to current recipients such as his 85-year-old mother. He proposed raising the retirement age to 67 or 68 for future retirees such as himself.
“If I was still in the Senate, I’d be one of the youngest people there,” he said.
Later, in response to a question about entitlement programs, Rubio said he wanted to add a work or school requirement — so that people collecting welfare weren’t “sitting at home watching Matlock.”
“At 1 in the afternoon, Matlock is playing somewhere,” he joked.
He went on to compare those programs to “going to the hospital with a broken arm and getting a lifetime supply of painkillers” instead of medical care. Rubio said state and local agencies, not the federal government, should distribute welfare money.
He also supported the creation of more vocational programs for young adults to learn a trade, saying the country “needs more welders and less philosophers.”
“But there’s nothing like a philosopher who can weld,” he said.
Rubio was the second Republican candidate to visit Sun City this week. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who finished second in the New Hampshire primary, will hold a town hall Friday afternoon that is open to all Sun City residents.