WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Thursday that he considers private fundraisers to be public -- as his rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), happens to be attracting attention for comments made at a private fundraiser.
“I would never say anything at a fundraiser that I wouldn’t say at a public event,” Rubio said, responding to a question from a reporter about whether the American people have a right to know what candidates say behind closed doors. “I mean, it’s a public event. As I said, obviously you can’t control what people are going to tell people after you leave.”
Cruz, who has been careful not to insult Republican front-runner Donald Trump on the campaign trail, apparently wasn’t as cautious at a private fundraiser on Wednesday in Manhattan, giving attendees his honest opinion of the state of the race. According to The New York Times, Cruz raised questions about whether Trump has the “judgment” to be president.
A press release from the Cruz campaign called the story “misleading,” although it did not go as far as to deny the specific comments reported by the Times. Cruz declined to comment on the remarks on Thursday after a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Scrutiny over Cruz’s remarks comes as the Texas senator is picking up momentum in Iowa, gaining in the polls and picking up coveted endorsements across the state. Prominent conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, endorsed Cruz on Thursday. In a Monmouth poll released Monday, Cruz took a slight lead in the Hawkeye State, receiving 24 percent of the vote, while Trump received 19 percent.
Rubio, who is tied with Dr. Ben Carson for third place in Iowa, has faced criticism of his own over statements he’s made behind closed doors. The Florida senator, who helped champion a failed bipartisan immigration bill in 2013, often dodges the topic on the campaign trial, only mentioning a few brief talking points and then consistently changing the subject. BuzzFeed reported in April that when courting the GOP’s high-dollar donors, Rubio touts his immigration record, even as he distances himself from it in public.
Rubio still defends his campaign strategy as being the same no matter his audience. “My message is pretty consistent, whether it’s at a private meeting with an individual and a group of donors or in a broader setting,” he said.
In recent weeks, there has been an escalation of attacks between the two senators over the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers and immigration. With the next Republican debate on the horizon, the two senators are likely to spar about the issue on the debate stage. On Thursday, Rubio continued to accuse Cruz of being weak on national defense.
“Senator Cruz and others have been given a choice between neo-isolationism or the defense of this country,” he explained. “He has chosen neo-isolationism. Whether it’s weakening our intelligence gathering capabilities or voting against the defense bills, or voting for a budget that reduces our defense budget, these are facts.”