In the 30-plus hours since Rubio’s awkward swig of water toward the end of his much-hyped response to President Obama’s State of the Union, the Florida senator has swiftly moved to turn an unexpected glitch to his advantage.
HOW MARCO RUBIO TURNED WATER INTO... WATER BOTTLES AND TWITTER FOLLOWERS
by Sean Sullivan and Aaron Blake on February 14, 2013 at 6:30 am
Let’s be clear: Rubio’s apparent bout of dry mouth, which seemed to get worse and worse until he suddenly reached for water minutes later was, well, awkward. Really awkward. And it stole some attention away from the words he was speaking in one of the biggest speeches of his career.
But the aftermath of the episode has demonstrated Rubio’s political savvy. In his Wednesday interviews, he took it all in stride. Rubio’s message was that he too was chuckling about the incident.
“I figured I was better off taking that water and taking the hit for it than being unable to pronounce my words at the end of it,” he told Fox News. On CBS, he said with a chuckle: “It had been a long day of work, had already taped an 18-minute speech in Spanish, so I’m just glad the water was nearby. I don’t know what I would have done without it.”
He’s also been raising money off of Tuesday night, offering water bottles branded with his name for donations of $25 or more, raising over $100,00 for his PAC in just a couple days.
And finally, Rubio’s been laughing at himself via Twitter:
Rubio is the Republican Party’s marquee figure right now, and as such, everything he does – both good and bad – will be scrutinized extra closely. If he ends up running for president, we’ll look back at Tuesday night as an early test of his ability to cope with unanticipated developments.
So far, he’s holding his own. Politicians are going to mess up every now and again. Period. It’s just going to happen. The talented ones can turn an unfortunate incident on its head, show some humility, humanity, and humor, and ultimately put it behind them.
After Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) delivered a widely panned response to Obama’s first speech before a joint session of Congress in 2009, he never really engaged the public in its aftermath the way Rubio is doing now. That speech might not have damaged Jindal’s long-term political prospects, but it followed him for a while in a way that could have been avoided had he reacted differently afterward.
Tuesday’s speech plays right into this narrative. Rubio found himself in an uncomfortable position a lot of people could probably picture themselves in. And ultimately, he was a good sport about it.
Part of Rubio’s swift political rise is due to the relatable personality he projects. He’ll chat in detail about rap music, likes movies you might find in a college freshman’s collection, and has demonstrated a sense of humor. In other words, he hasn’t been seen as a distant politician with interests that don’t align with everyday Americans.
Rubio had a close-up view last year of how opponents successfully fueled the narrative that Mitt Romney lacked personality and charisma and never could quite shake off the perception that he was awkward. He looks determined not to let anything like that happen to him.