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Marco Rubio Defends His 'Small Hands' Criticism Of Donald Trump

Marco Rubio and Donald Trump participate in the Republican presidential debate in Detroit.
Geoff Robins
AFP/Getty Images
Marco Rubio and Donald Trump participate in the Republican presidential debate in Detroit.

Not even the best political forecasters could have guessed that Donald Trump's hand and genitalia size would become 2016 presidential campaign topics. But they have, and it's thanks in large part to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio insulted Trump on the campaign trail last week by claiming the business mogul has "small hands" — and by implying that it extends to other parts of Trump's body. And while many have criticized Rubio for dragging down the tone of the nation's political debate, he defended his rhetoric Friday morning. When NPR's Steve Inskeep asked Rubio whether he was stooping to Trump's level, as some have suggested, the candidate said no.

"I think that's not accurate. Please. That's not even possible to be as crude as Trump," he said.

Rubio defended making "a couple of jokes" at Trump's expense because, Rubio said, Trump has been "personally offending not just everyone in the race but women and minorities and the disabled."

"At some point, someone's got to stand up and say 'Hey, enough is enough,'" he said. "If you think you're going to attack people, you're going to get hit back."

Rubio has been ramping up his verbal assaults on Trump lately, but it's not just because he wants to defend marginalized demographics. The Florida senator is far behind Trump not only in polls, but in the delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination.

Even in Rubio's home state of Florida, he is polling far behind Trump. That state's primary will be held on March 15. Rubio has won only one state thus far: Minnesota. If Rubio cannot pick up a win in his home state, it could be a campaign-ending blow.

For his part, Rubio said he doesn't think the polls are accurate.

"We're going to win Florida," he said. He added, "We feel confident about it, but we know that there's a lot of work ahead."

Rubio's attacks on Trump showed no sign of letting up at the Fox News debate — after the discussion of Trump's hand size and other parts of his body had passed, Rubio also criticized him for being insufficiently conservative.

And yet. Despite repeatedly bashing Trump, Rubio (along with his competitors, Ted Cruz and John Kasich) said at the end of the debate that, yes, he would support Trump if he won the nomination.

When asked about that seeming contradiction, Rubio said he doesn't want to "choose between the lesser of two terrible choices" — that is, Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, whom Rubio characterized as "a danger to our country."

Rubio added that the very premise of the question of whether he would support Trump should worry Republicans and spur them to back a different candidate.

"I don't want the Republican nominee to be someone that people have to make excuses why they're voting for him," he said. "What does that tell you when the Republican front-runner is someone that people are being asked constantly, 'Would you support them if they win?' It's unprecedented."

When pressed on what exactly his "excuses" for supporting Trump would be, Rubio responded, "He makes it hard to answer that question because of the way he behaves."

He added that he is focused on becoming the nominee. But time is quickly running out to make that happen.

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Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
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