Presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio speaks to supporters in North Carolina on February 16, 2016 in Summerville, South Carolina.
Spencer Platt—Getty Images
By Zeke J Miller / North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Updated: February 17, 2016 11:29 AM ET

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio went off on a tangent Tuesday after a long day campaigning reflecting about his love for Red Bull—the caffeinated energy drink that keeps him going on the campaign trail.

“Remember Red Bull used to have ads that said that ‘Red Bull gives you wings?’ You know they got sued and they can’t say that anymore because it’s literally not true that it gives you wings,” the presidential hopeful said. “When I’m president, everyone is going to have wings and Mexico is going to pay for them!”

“For members of the press, that’s called a joke,” Rubio continued, “J-O-K-E is how it’s spelled.”

With rivals Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz going full-bore into attacking the GOP poll leader, Rubio is taking a more subtle approach, mocking Donald Trump’s penchant for bombast and exaggeration with sly applause lines.

“I didn’t become a conservative 2.5 years ago,” Rubio said a few hours earlier in Summerville. “I’m not talking about anybody,” he added with a smile, as the crowd laughed knowingly.

Rubio has rarely confronted Trump directly on the campaign trail—his campaign and super PAC haven’t spent money on attack ads against him either—and his defense of George W. Bush in Saturday’s debate from Trump’s attacks was less about Trump and more about edging out Jeb Bush’s defense of his own brother.

“Building a hotel overseas is not foreign policy experience,” Rubio said in Summerville, contrasting Trump’s claims with his work on foreign policy issues in the Senate.

Rubio aides say the tone is a reflection of Rubio’s personality—he dislikes direct personal attacks and has a humorous side—but also is designed to present a different tone than his chief rivals.

Not to mention insulate him from Trump’s biting counter-attacks. While the GOP front-runner has ferociously criticized Cruz and Bush, he’s had little to say about Rubio, only calling him a “choke-artist” in a press conference Monday when prompted repeatedly by reporters.

Rubio has found Trump to be an easy foil to use to highlight his own accomplishments. At the same event, he alluded to Trump’s longstanding support for eminent domain, referencing legislation he helped pass in Florida to limit the use of the practice for private purposes.

“Theoretically, I’m not saying this happens, but theoretically, if a real estate developer tried to take your property to build a hotel…” Rubio said, as crowd roared. “I’m just saying, I’m just saying as an example—using eminent domain, you can’t do that in Florida because of the law I helped pass. I’m just saying it theoretically, I don’t have anyone in mind.”

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