A parched Marco Rubio's awkward reach for a drink of Poland Spring water during his Republican rebuttal to the president's State of the Union address Tuesday night became an instant online sensation. Predictably, the video clips, jokes and Twitter hashtags that have become so familiar in such situations took the social Internet by storm.
But what might it all mean for the up-and-coming senator from Florida seen by some as a GOP hopeful for the White House in 2016?
The Internet is now saturated with references to the sip. For instance, a Google search Wednesday morning for "Marco Rubio water" brought back 14.3 million results. Surely not all the hits are about this particular incident, but many are.
Using sentiment analysis, a process by which data experts attempt to mine the Internet to determine how users feel about someone or something, we can infer that the sip is proving to be both a positive and a negative for Rubio -- positive in that far more people are talking about him than were before, negative in that much of that conversation is finding fault.
Lisa Joy Rosner is chief marketing officer at NetBase, a Silicon Valley-based social media analytics software company. She said the sentiment analysis of online conversations about Rubio late Tuesday and Wednesday is quite telling.
"He got more air time because of it. It heightens people's awareness of him and led people to talk about him," Rosner said. "A greater percentage of people were making fun of him, and that caused his sentiment to go down. But, because he can engage in the conversation, here's an opportunity for him to engage in the chatter and change the sentiment.
"To some extent, this is people being petty. They're not saying anything super-insightful about his policies, or his acumen or his intelligence, they're just making fun of something that he did."
For his part, Rubio was a good sport about it all, even posting a picture of the infamous water bottle -- or one much like it -- to Twitter after realizing the sip had taken on meme status.
"I needed water, what am I going to do?" Rubio said this morning on ABC's "Good Morning America." "God has a funny way of reminding us we're human."
Innocent embarrassments on the national political stage are hardly irrecoverable. For instance, Bill Clinton's nomination speech of Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic National Convention was seen by many as too long and even boring. Of course, Clinton survived that and much, much more in the decade after.
"He droned on and on, and droned on," then-NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw later said. "When he finally said 'In conclusion,' people began to cheer."
Clinton quickly went on to appear on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson and gave other media interviews about the incident.
"That should have told you something about Bill Clinton at that point," Brokaw said. "He would make the big mistake, but then he would crawl out of it in his own endearing fashion."
As for Rubio, Rosner said, the sip could ultimately end up being a positive.
"This is a guy who was not trending at all very much anywhere, and now he's trending," she said. "What this means is, probably a whole new group of people are aware and engaging with him."
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