In Largo, Rubio likens Trump to Twitter troll after Chicago violence

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During a whirlwind trip through the Tampa Bay area Saturday ahead of Tuesday's primary, presidential candidate and U.S. Senator from Florida Marco Rubio had strong words for Donald Trump during a stop in Largo.

In the wake of a violent night in Chicago that led Trump to cancel a rally there Friday night, Rubio (who's behind in the polls in Florida and other states) railed against the hate-mongering rhetoric Trump has employed at campaign events since day one.

“This is what happens when political candidates talk as if they're people on Twitter,” Rubio said. “And the results are bleeding over into the broader culture.”

On Friday night, clashes between Trump supporters and protesters compelled his campaign to cancel a rally at the UIC Pavillion on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus.

Rubio blamed Trump's often racially charged, nationalistic rhetoric for the violence that has, especially in recent weeks, erupted into "Third World" mayhem at his campaign events, reaching its boiling point in Chicago.

“This is a man who in rallies has told his supporters to basically beat up people who are in the crowd and he'll pay their legal fees," Rubio said. "Someone who's basically encouraged people in the audience to rough up anyone who stands up and says something he doesn't like.”

He added that, while he acknowledges that people are angry, especially Trump supporters, leaders ought to be above inciting violence; it's hard to imagine that someone who tells his supporters to punch out his opponents would have a measured approach to leading the free world.

“It's called chaos. It's called anarchy. And that's what we're careening toward in the political process,” he said.

But while Rubio and others condemn Trump's rhetoric and the violence it incites, some note that what we're seeing (and bracing for) is a direct result of Republican rhetoric and policies — that Trump's candidacy is something of a GOP Frankenstein's monster.

And apparently, there's no turning back.

Rubio is currently behind in the polls in his home state as well as Ohio, which also has a primary Tuesday. It's a four-person race at the moment, and Rubio had hopes that his party would coalesce behind him in an effort to topple Trump, something that never materialized.

During a speech to supporters, he said he was bent on winning Florida and has long been accustomed to being underestimated.

“I know what the media says: he's an underdog, he's behind, he's trailing," he said. "Whatever. I've heard that before. I heard that in 2009. First of all, I've heard that all my life."

Rubio won his Senate seat during the tea party surge that took place in the wake of President Obama taking office. He rode that wave, pushing then-governor (and then-Republican) Charlie Crist out of the primary (and the party). Six years later, Rubio appears to be suffering a similar fate, which he shrugged off in front of supporters.

"We have always had to scratch and claw," he said. "But I like that, it's a blessing.”

He said he fears that, unlike conservatives of his generation, who came of age under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, the younger generation will grow up with a Republican president who incites hatred and bigotry.

“We grew up in the era of Ronald Reagan. It defined conservatism for a generation. It defined conservatism as a set of principles backed up by a specific set of ideas and wrapped around a sense of optimism about America and our future. And young people growing up in that area embraced it. And were defined by it and were inspired to enter public service because of it.," he said. "I can tell you that if Donald Trump is the nominee, he will define what it means to be a Republican for an entire generation of Americans. And I don't think that's something that in Florida we want.”

He stopped short of saying he wouldn't endorse Trump if Trump became the nominee, however.

“I've already talked about the fact that I think Hillary Clinton would be terrible for this country,” he said to reporters. “I still, at this moment, continue to tend to support the Republican nominee. But it's getting harder every day.”

Rubio also had stops planned Saturday in Tampa, Hudson and Lakeland in an effort to resurrect enthusiasm over his candidacy ahead of Tuesday's primary.

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