Marco Rubio, junior U.S. Senator from Florida, has announced his candidacy for President today. A water break in 2013 could hurt his chances in the Republican primaries.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Incident Occurred in Rubio’s Response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2013
Rubio’s speech on President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address was a memorable one, not as much for the points made as one specific moment that would quickly turn the candidate into the butt of a joke that spread to Twitter, parody shows like SNL, primetime news programs, and internet memes.
According to USA Today, Rubio gave the speech in front of a TV camera in one of House Speaker John Boehner’s conference rooms at the U.S. Capitol. Rubio stepped out of the shot for a moment to take a sip of water. The 8-ounce bottle of Poland Spring water was on a table out of view.
“When you give a speech on a podium and the water is right there. But when you don’t, you start looking around thinking, ‘Where am I going to get the water?'” Rubio said on Fox News. “I 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.”
“I think Sen. Rubio is going to turn lemons into lemonade here,” David Marin, a former communications director for a House committee now with the Podesta Group public relations firm, said. “He’s already doing the most important thing: Making light of a moment and owning it. And he’s doing it in the right forum — via digital media, which shows real smarts since that’s where the conversation was happening.”
2. CNN’s ‘The Situation Room’ Held a Panel on the Incident
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, host of The Situation Room, held a panel to discuss whether the water break would be damaging to Rubio’s career. He said on the show, “So can a drink of water make or break a political career? A U.S. Senator, possible presidential candidate. We’re going to find out, whether he likes it or not.”
Blitzer would later go on to say in the discussions that he didn’t think Rubio’s water break was a career-ender and that the senator has a “huge future ahead of him.”
NewsBusters, a conservative site created by the Media Research Center, criticized CNN for asking whether the incident was a “career-ender” for Rubio. The media site called the segment “absurd.”
After the network came under fire, a CNN spokesperson told Fox News, “It was simply a tease (posing a question) leading up to a segment with our political contributors — when Wolf specifically said no one thinks this will be a career-ender.”
3. ‘SNL’ Spoofed the Incident on ‘Weekend Update’
SNL’s “Weekend Update” parodied Rubio’s water break just a few days after the speech. Rubio, played by Taran Killam, attempted to explain the incident, only to end up suffering the same embarrassment again.
4. Rubio Has Made Fun of Himself in the Aftermath
A day after his infamous speech, Rubio joined the teasing on Twitter:
He made a joke about the incident at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference:
Rubio has remained positive about the incident, explaining to Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos that, “I needed water—what am I going to do? You know, it happens. God has a funny way of reminding us we’re human.”
5. The Incident Could Hurt Rubio in the GOP Primaries
CNN analyst Cornell Belcher compared the incident to Nixon’s infamous debate flub:
“He goes in stylistically, he’s sweating like Nixon. He goes for the water in a really awkward way which will, quite frankly, be what’s most remembered from this,” Belcher said. “Style matters. And he fumbled.”
In the past, a candidate’s style has been a big factor in the elections. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is Richard Nixon’s infamous sweating in his first debate (also the first televised political debate) against future U.S. president, John F. Kennedy:
In the video above, you can see the sweat on the candidate’s brow, upper lip, and chin, which many political experts have claimed over the years cost him the 1960 election.
Rubio’s opponents could use the incident to illustrate Rubio’s lack of calm under pressure.