The Republican establishment has forgotten about the free-enterprise and limited-government principles that the country needs to get back on track, Sen. Marco Rubio told CNBC on Wednesday.
The Florida Republican, a possible presidential candidate, said in a "Squawk Box" interview: "I think there have been instances where the Republican party has allowed itself be pictured as the party of big business, as opposed to the party of innovation and free enterprise."
Rubio's comments came after as two long-time Republican incumbents faced fierce primary opposition from grassroots candidates. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a seven-term congressman from Virginia, lost his primary race two weeks ago to tea party-affiliated economics professor David Brat. The same fate almost befell veteran Sen. Thad Cochran in Tuesday's primary runoff in Mississippi, but he managed narrowly beat tea party challenger Chris McDaniel.
Looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election, Rubio told CNBC the GOP needs a refresh. "America desperately needs a reformed conservative movement that explains to the American people what free enterprise and limited government looks like in the 21st century."
"I believe if the Republican Party runs a candidate and a platform of that nature," he continued, "we're going to be successful, not just at winning the election but uniting our country."
There's been lots of speculation about whether Rubio plans to make a Republican run for the White House. He's repeatedly said he'll decide by early next year.
Rubio wasn't pressed Wednesday, but said on "Squawk Box" last month: "My Senate term is [then] up as well. So I'll have to make a decision if I want to stay here in the U.S. Senate and continue to make a difference or run for another spot."
Rubio also gave CNBC a preview of the ideas he's going to present Wednesday afternoon at an event in Washington, D.C., aimed at strengthening opportunities for middle-class Americans.
He sees two primary impediments.
"One is our economy has become less competitive for investment, has lost its edge, because of regulations and because of a tax code that makes America a much more difficult place to innovate and invest," he said. "The second part of it is the higher paying jobs all require a higher level of skill or a higher level of education. The only system we have is the traditional four-year college model that increasingly costs a lot of money."
He said the "higher education cartel" needs to be disrupted by creating alternatives to the existing college track. "That includes ... allowing people to graduate from high school with industry-certified job skills so you can go to work right away as an airplane mechanic, a BMW technician, as a welder."
Asked repeatedly where the money would come from to pay for these type of initiatives, Rubio said he'd "repurpose the money" from existing programs, and foster public-private partnerships.
—By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere