According to the woman who knows him best, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio would love to spend Thanksgiving Day posted up in front of the television, enjoying all the football the day has to offer.
“He wants to just sit there and not have to move,” Jeanette Rubio, the senator’s wife, told NBC News’ Natalie Morales in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
But Jeanette, as much as anybody, knows the value of compromise. Despite an initial wariness of her husband’s political aspirations, she’s thrown her full support behind his rise to increasingly higher public office, and on Wednesday joined him on a campaign swing through South Carolina.
And so on Thanksgiving, her husband will compromise too: “We’re going to his sister's house, and then we're going to my sister's house after,” she said. “Which Marco doesn’t really like.”
“‘Cause I miss the games,” Rubio acknowledged, with a sheepish grin.
But the two seemed to indicate a few missed games was a small price to pay to spend some of the senator’s increasingly rare free time with family. Despite a hectic campaign schedule, he tries to always leave his Sundays open to go back home and see his kids.
“One of the decisions we made is, if God can build the universe in six days, we can run for President in six days,” he said. “I try to leave Sunday as the day that we do nothing but go to church, visit family and for the next 16 or 17 weeks, watch the NFL on my Sunday ticket.”
And occasionally, like on this sunny Wednesday morning in South Carolina, Rubio’s family comes to him. All four of his kids, ages 8-15, joined their mom and dad for two campaign stops in the Charleston area on Wednesday, first to help prepare meals at a local church and then for a quick meet-and-greet at a Mt. Pleasant restaurant near the water.
Jeanette doesn’t often make it out on the campaign trail, and said she has no plans to change that, because “my priority is being home with the kids.” But she said she fully supports his run, because “I really do believe in Marco.”
Indeed, she was a pivotal factor in Rubio’s path to the White House. Jeanette encouraged him to go forward with an underdog Senate bid in 2010 and made him stick with it when the race looked unwinnable.
Still, she acknowledges, “when I’m home with the kids, and there’s a situation, sometimes” she regrets telling him to stick with it.
“Of course, it’s difficult,” raising four kids while her husband is often far from home. “It has it’s challenges.”
But she leans on her support system of friends and family, and reminds herself, “many others have it just as hard.”
“I mean, you have military spouses, you also have single moms. My mom was a single mom. So I always look at her as an example…how she was able to help raise both my sister and my brother,” she said.
And Rubio, Jeanette adds, will drop everything for his family.
“He’s not just only a great husband — he’s a great father,” she said. “When there’s a situation, Marco’s in the middle of the campaign trail, or he’s getting ready to go [onstage…] then suppose the kids have a situation, he’ll stop,” she said.
He’s a person who makes “things that are important to him” a priority. “And just like he does that with his children, I know that he will do that for the country,” Jeanette said.
Rubio’s busy schedule isn’t the only tough part of the campaign for his family. As the Florida senator is vetted by the media and targeted by his opponents, Jeanette’s been caught in the crosshairs, at one point drawing scrutiny over a number of speeding tickets she had amassed.
But Rubio dismissed that as a “silly story,” and said the family’s gotten somewhat used to it — “we really have been confronting this for quite a while now,” he said, noting the scrutiny he drew as a vice-presidential prospect and during his Senate run. “It comes with the territory,” he added.
"What I always try to remind everybody is, in America, we have these political contests and the worst thing that happens is somebody says really nasty things about you. There are a lot of countries around the world where you have a political contest and if you don't win, you die, and the worst thing that happens is they throw you in jail or they try to kill your family,” he said.
The scrutiny, the Rubios said, doesn’t faze their kids — though they do keep an eye on their dad while he’s on the trail. During the debates, while his sons would rather “go play Minecraft,” Rubio says, his daughters have advice for him.
“My 15-year-old is more about encouraging me. And my 13-year-old is a little bit of a harder critic,” he said. His 13-year-old daughter “reads all the news,” he adds, and sometimes “reveals to me headlines I hadn’t even read yet.”
But even as their kids pay attention to the process, the Rubios said, they're not yet thinking about the White House — and neither are they. Jeanette said she’s simply taking the campaign “day by day.”
But Rubio, does he dream about life at the White House?
“Not really,” Rubio laughed.
He did, however, say his wife would be a “fantastic” first lady, and hinted she’d be interested in focusing on human trafficking or religious liberties if he were elected.
And he indicated a few perks of the position have crossed his mind, especially with four kids in the White House. Rubio said, primarily, he expects he’d have a shorter commute.
And, of course, “it wouldn't be bad to have Secret Service keeping an eye on your teenager daughter,” Rubio joked.