As millions of Texans lost power and water from devastating winter storms, Ted Cruz booked a flight to Cancun in a political misstep that likely won’t harm his long-term career.
(CN) — When asked about which Republican candidate he liked during the 2016 presidential campaign season, the venerated former Kansas Senator Bob Dole said he liked “nearly all of them.”
“Except Cruz,” he added.
Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, drew damning ire this week after leaving the state to travel to Cancun with his family as millions of his constituents were left behind to deal with deadly winter storms.
Cruz, elected in 2012 as part of the far right Tea Party, has a history of receiving criticism from Democrats and especially from fellow Republicans. In the midst of his noted unlikeability, Cruz has managed to remain a powerful figure within his party.
But his decision to take a vacation in the middle of a catastrophic winter that has all but paralyzed his home state and left 7 million people without clean water, has left him with very few defenders.
Texas GOP Chair Allen West on Thursday dodged the question about Cruz leaving the country as millions in the state were without power.
“That’s something he has to answer to his constituents about,” he said. “I’m here trying to take care of my family and look after my friends and others that are still without power. That’s my focus.”
Cruz has remained popular with Republicans in Texas, despite his lack of popularity across the nation as a whole. A January Morning Consult poll showed his approval rating at 76% among Texas GOP voters. But does his latest political faux pas represent a greater liability for his career?
After pictures emerged of Cruz at an airport waiting to board his flight, he quickly canceled his travel plans to return to Texas. In an initial statement, he said he wanted “to be a good dad” by traveling with his daughters to Mexico before returning straight back.
He offered a different statement to reporters once he returned home.
“The plan had been to stay through the weekend with the family,” he said amid a crowd of Texans who gathered at his house to protest. “As it became a bigger and bigger firestorm, it became all the more compelling that I needed to come back.”
Cruz won reelection in 2018 in a tight race with Democrat Beto O’Rourke, garnering just under 51% of the vote in a state that hasn’t had a Democratic senator since 1993. And while he won’t be up for reelection again until 2024, Democrats have used his misstep this week to their advantage.
New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised more than $3 million for Texas relief by Friday afternoon. She traveled to Houston to help in relief efforts on Saturday.
“I think this shows that New York stands with you, but the whole country stands with you,” she said outside a food bank where she volunteered Saturday morning.
When asked about Cruz on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was too busy “working directly with leadership in Texas and surrounding states on addressing the winter storm and the crisis at hand.”
“I don’t have any updates on the exact location of Senator Ted Cruz, nor does anyone at the White House,” she said at a press briefing.
It’s still too soon to say whether Cruz’s impromptu vacation will affect his political aspirations, but he isn’t the first to make such a mistake during dangerous weather.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in Bermuda when the city was hit with a dangerous snowstorm in 2010. New Yorkers were furious about the city’s response to the storm, a response even Bloomberg himself admitted was inadequate. In a matter of days, his approval rating dropped from 55% to 39%, his lowest approval in 8 years.
Voters tend to have short memories though, and Bloomberg regained his approval rating later on.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was once mocked by Cruz for taking a beach vacation while the state’s government had shut down. In a Fox News Radio interview Saturday, Christie said he had no sympathy for the Texas senator.
“Cruz has taken every chance he can to take shots at people on both sides of the aisle over the course of his career,” he said. “And so when you do that, when you decide that’s what you want to do, and especially on personal matters, there’s not going to be a ton of people running to your defense.”
For his part, Cruz has remained largely quiet since his return Thursday, as he will likely weather the storm, both in Texas and in politics.