TOPEKA, Kans. — Marco Rubio said on Friday that he'd support Donald Trump if he received the party's nomination because Hillary Clinton is a more flawed candidate than the Republican frontrunner.
"That’s how bad Hillary Clinton is. I mean, that’s what we’re trying to avoid. The fact that you’re even asking this question about the supposed front-runner, the fact that we keep getting asked, 'Will you vote for the front-runner? as Republicans, tells you what a flawed candidate he is," he told reporters after a campaign stop in Topeka, Kansas.
"This is what we’re trying to avoid. We don’t want Republicans to make excuses as to why they should vote for their nominee, we want them to be excited about their nominee."
His comments followed an about-face on the topic during the previous night's debate, when Rubio, after a week of pledging to campaign in all 50 states "as long as it takes" to prevent Trump from taking the nomination, said that he would in fact support Trump as the nominee. He did, however, slam Trump during his campaign event in Topeka, but took a far softer approach to his attacks, avoiding his usual charge that Trump is a "con man."
"I'm not here to attack anyone, we did plenty of that last night," he said. But of Trump, he added, "what he says he is and what he'll do are not the same thing. He's been doing that his whole life."
Still, he told reporters after the event, "this is a very sad situation to watch unfolding now in the Republican Party." Rubio insisted that "we still have time to prevent it, and that’s why I feel so good about the states that are upcoming, including here in Kansas."
But after his disappointing finish in the Super Tuesday contests, where he only won one state and placed behind Ted Cruz in many others, his path to the nomination — or even his viability past the month of March — has narrowed considerably.
Rubio dismissed questions over his Super Tuesday finish, however, and insisted the majority of the party opposes Trump, but "those votes are still being divided up between two or three people...so it’s made it harder to coalesce."
But he said he's going to continue focusing on racking up delegates in the coming states, and pledged to pick up some delegates in Kansas when voters head to the polls on Saturday.
"We’re gonna continue to work hard to get as many of those votes as possible. I can tell you we will leave here tomorrow with delegates, and this has now become a delegates fight, to see who can get to 1237 first. And if not, who can go into the convention with the highest number of delegates," he said.
He also expressed optimism about the path forward in terms of the delegate race.
"If you look at the map today, the delegate math for us is not substantially different than what it is for Ted Cruz or even Donald Trump," Rubio said. "We feel very good about the states that lie ahead in terms of how they award delegates and the number they are going to award."
Rubio has gone all-in in Kansas, just one state that votes on March 5, by canceling planned stops in Kentucky and Louisiana in favor of a day-long, three-stop focus in Kansas. Asked if he was purposely focusing on states that hold caucuses, which have traditionally been more favorable to him, Rubio said it was "a question of where we can get to in time to do visits."
"We have teams in Michigan, we have teams tomorrow in Kentucky, we have teams in Louisiana, we have a campaign in virtually all 50 states and every territory. It’s just a question of, logistically, can you get there in time to do an event or not," he said.
He continued to insist that he would win Florida, but sounded less bullish than he has in the past, a seeming acknowledgment of the challenge facing him in his home-state. Both public polling and the campaign's internal numbers show Rubio trailing Trump.
"It’s gonna be close. Florida is a competitive state, there’s a lot of people who live in Florida, that vote in Florida, that don’t live there year round. That’s a unique state in that regard," he said. "So it’s going to be close, especially with someone going on like Donald Trump, with the amount of national attention he’s gotten."