COLUMBIA, SC -- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Saturday slammed President Barack Obama for being the most divisive figure in American politics.
"The man who today occupies the White House and is running for president is a very different person," Rubio said at a high-profile GOP fundraiser, where he claimed Obama has abandoned the ideals he ran on in 2008. "We have not seen such a divisive figure in modern American history than we have over the last three and one-half years."
Rubio delivered the dig in front of nearly 1,000 South Carolina Republicans at the Silver Elephant Dinner, one of the state's biggest gatherings of GOPers and whose keynote speaker in 2011 was former presidential candidate Rick Santorum. The junior senator from the Sunshine State drew praise from the state's most influential conservatives who took the stage before him, including Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint and Gov. Nikki Haley.
Choosing to speak in the early primary state also gave rise to speculation about Rubio's future political ambitions. As a young and popular Hispanic senator from a swing state, he has found himself in the midst of vice presidential speculation. But this event, along with his address earlier this month to a group of influential Iowa businesspeople, has fueled questions about the possibility of a Rubio presidential run.
"I didn't know much about Marco other than all the hype that doesn't do you justice,” Graham said. “I've got a chance to travel with Marco, he's the future of the Republican party like [Rep.] Tim [Scott].
While Rubio did not so much as mention Mitt Romney's name, he did prove he could play attack dog, spending the top of his speech critiquing the president for failing to live up to his campaign promises.
"The president and his party’s view of America’s government and our lives is a failed one,” Rubio said. “It hasn’t worked. His ideas that sounded so good in the classrooms of Harvard and Yale haven’t really worked out well in the real world."
But what may set him apart from other potential VP shortlisters is Rubio's compelling personal narrative. His parents left Cuba for America, where his father worked as a bartender and his mother a maid. It was on Saturday nights, Rubio said, that his father stood behind a bar.
"That journey behind that bar to this podium before you tonight, it’s my personal story as our family. But it happens to be our story as a nation," he said. "Because you see every single one of us, no matter who you are here tonight, every single one of us can trace our history back to someone who made it the purpose of their lives to ensure that we would have the opportunities they never did."
Rubio has denied any speculation about possible vice presidential ambitions, but his popularity outside his home state was on display Saturday night. The freshman senator drew applause equal only to that of DeMint, the tea party favorite and South Carolina native.
"In the end, as frustrated as sometimes we may get with the leadership of our own party on one issue or another, the logical home of the limited government, constitutional republican principles of our nation is the Republican party," Rubio said. "The logical home for the defense of the free enterprise system is the Republican party. It is the only organization in modern American politics that is still capable at this moment of driving forward these concepts and these principles that are so important for our future."