When he burst onto the scene in 2012, Ted Cruz pulled a remarkable political feat. He defeated a well-known three-term lieutenant governor and other top contenders to win Kay Bailey Hutchison's Senate seat, despite a low-political profile heading into the race.
Cruz understood before his rivals that the Tea Party sentiment and desire for a "fighter" had firmly taken hold among staunch Texas Republicans. His political instincts carried him to an upset and then almost to the GOP presidential nomination four years later, until he ran into an even bigger disrupter, Donald Trump.
Cruz's instincts — and his judgment — have abandoned him now. The junior senator from a state where millions of residents have been freezing without power, lacking safe drinking water and running out of food took off for Cancun sometime this week with his family. To be clear, Cancun is not part of Texas. Cruz was not working, unless applying another coat of sunscreen counts as a senatorial duty.
Cruz first confirmed the jaunt in a written statement, saying that his daughters asked to take a trip with family after their schools closed.
"Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon," he said. "My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas."
That explanation is, at best, implausible. Even if Cruz was merely escorting his wife and daughters, it reeks of a privilege that most Texans cannot enjoy as their pipes burst or their water dwindles. (Star Tribune opinion editor's note: Late last week, Cruz said the trip "obviously was a mistake.")
Cruz has come in for the usual online bashing, and in this case, it's fully deserved. He's been tagged "Flyin' Ted," a takeoff on Trump's nickname for him during those fierce 2016 primary battles. Normally these kind of ritual savagings quickly go too far. In Cruz's case, he deserves every bit of it.
It's not that Cruz could do much to contribute to relief efforts, other than harangue federal officials. The state and private utilities, however imperfectly, run the show on getting power up and running, and water is mostly a municipal matter. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has already swung in, too. Cruz and colleague Sen. John Cornyn wrote to President Joe Biden on Sunday asking that he approve Texas' request for federal disaster relief, which Biden did the same day.
No, it's mostly the optics. And in this case, they're unforgivably bad. Elected officials should be standing with their constituents, not sticking their toes in the warm sand.
Let's not forget, too, Cruz's much bigger error of contesting the 2020 election results and insisting that there were too many questions about their validity to certify Biden's victory without a deeper investigation. His insistence on peddling untruths, even after the Capitol riot, are disqualifying in the eyes of many Texans.
In 2024, Cruz is going to ask Republican voters, and then possibly the wider electorate, to nominate him for the presidency or return him to the Senate for a third term.
These jobs require good judgment. And no matter what Cruz says between now and then, we have our answer about his.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM