WASHINGTON (AP) — Nothing trumps a carefully crafted political message like the unscripted moment. All-too-human blips and slips were the bane of politicians even before the social media age and Sen. Marco Rubio’s sip seen ‘round the world.
Rubio’s lunge for a drink of bottled water while delivering the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address quickly lit up Twitter, drew titters on morning TV and segued into the next day’s water cooler topic.
Rubio, a highly regarded 41-year-old senator from Florida, is viewed as a potential 2016 presidential candidate and his nationally televised rebuttal to Obama was considered a big step. On Wednesday, he gamely laughed off his Poland Springs moment.
‘‘You know, when you give a speech, you have a podium and the water is right there, but when you don't, then you'll start looking around thinking, ‘Where am I going to get the water from?'’’ Rubio told Fox News Channel’s ‘‘Fox and Friends.’’ He described worrying that he was getting too parched to keep talking after a long day of work and pre-recording the speech in Spanish.
‘‘My mouth got dry, what can I say?’’ Rubio said.
Rubio used his address to promote Republican tenets of limited government and economic growth and to criticize Obama’s first-term record on taxes and spending. He appeared to perspire under the bright lights. Late in the speech he reached awkwardly to his left for the bottle, his eyes still trained on the camera, took a quick sip of water, then reached off camera again to put the bottle down.
The social media’s instant reaction took a partisan bent. Democrats mocked Rubio, suggesting he wasn’t ready for prime time. Republicans called it a humanizing moment that the senator addressed with self-deprecating humor.
Moments after his speech, Rubio jokingly tweeted a photo of the water bottle.
Unscripted political moments are bipartisan. Bill Clinton’s longwinded speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention was widely panned, prompting him to laugh it off on the ‘‘Tonight Show.’’ Al Gore’s loud sighs dominated coverage of one of his presidential debates with George W. Bush in 2000 and were parodied by ‘‘Saturday Night Live.’’
Some politicians make literal slips: Presidents Gerald Ford, Republican nominee Bob Dole and presidential candidate Gary Bauer all took falls in the public eye.
More recently, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s response to Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address was lampooned as amateurish. But the governor has rebounded, and there’s talk of a 2016 Jindal presidential campaign.
Rubio had to clean up perhaps the ultimate unscripted moment of the 2012 campaign: actor Clint Eastwood’s ‘‘imaginary Obama’’ speech to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention. Following Eastwood, Rubio took a sip from a water bottle and declared, ‘‘I think I just drank Clint Eastwood’s water.’’
Lanny Wiles, a longtime advance man for Republican candidates, chalked up Rubio’s Tuesday night moment to poor planning. Wiles would have placed a glass of water on a table just outside the camera’s view. But he thinks the incident will be water under the bridge.
‘‘Probably only you and I and hard-core politicos remember how awkward Bobby Jindal looked when he did the State of the Union response,’’ Wiles said. ‘‘He took a beating on it for a few days and now no one remembers it but him.’’
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