In Mount Pleasant, Rubio makes his case as a party unifier

Marco Rubio makes a Wednesday morning stop in Mount Pleasant at the Omar Shrine Temple to talk to supporters.

MOUNT PLEASANT — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio painted a dismal portrait of the nation Wednesday morning, one where people are stuck living paycheck to paycheck, small businesses are struggling and the United States garners less respect around the world.

“The road we are on right now is the road to decline,” Rubio said. “It began eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected president.”

The first-term Florida senator promised to change the country’s trajectory if he’s elected president. Before an audience of 650 packed inside an enclosed section of Omar Shrine Temple, he pitched himself to supporters as a unifier of the fractured Republican Party and the candidate best equipped to beat the Democrats’ presidential nominee in November.

“We speak to every segment of this party,” he said. “But it won’t be enough to just bring everybody together. We have to grow. We have to take our message, what we stand for, to people that don’t vote for us now.”

Despite the Republican race’s increasing nastiness, Rubio didn’t take any swipes at his GOP rivals during his Mount Pleasant stop. While touting his conservative bona fides, he did make one vague dig at front-runner Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman with a history of writing checks to Democratic candidates.

“I’m as conservative as anyone running in this race, and I have a 15-year record of turning conservatism into action that proves it,” he said. “I didn’t become a conservative two and a half years ago.”

Rubio was less generous to the Democrats vying for their party’s nomination.

On Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, Rubio said: “There are dozens and dozens of socialist countries all over the world. If you want to live in socialist country, why don’t you move to a socialist country?”

On former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rubio called her “disqualified from being commander in chief” due to her private email scandal and response to the 2012 U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi.

He saved his harshest words for Obama, who he called “the worst president in 35 years” and “a bad commander in chief.”

“He’s gutting our military. That’s not an exaggeration,” Rubio said.

“We don’t need a Department of Education,” he added, to great applause from the audience. “We need a military.”

Reach Deanna Pan at 843-937-5764.