Ted Cruz arrives to check-in for a flight at Cancun International Airport, after backlash on Feb. 18.Source: MEGA/GC Images/Getty Images

Ted Cruz Gets a Pass From Republicans After Cancun Trip in Storm

by · Bloomberg
  • Despite calls for Cruz resignation, GOP reaction mostly muted
  • Texas senator doesn’t have to run again for three more years

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is facing little blow-back from fellow Republicans so far over his trip to Cancun while millions of his constituents lacked heat or running water during a rare winter storm -- signaling he’s likely to be spared punishment by the party.

Short of Cruz resigning -- and there’s no sign he’s bowing to pressure to do so from Democrats -- there is no mechanism for Texans to punish the senator until an election year. Cruz doesn’t face re-election until 2024, when he may also make another presidential run, and analysts suggest that even Republicans who don’t like him will stick with him.

Although the Houston Chronicle demanded his resignation in an editorial -- the second time it’s done so this year after Cruz supported former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election -- Republicans who control state politics said he was guilty of nothing more than being tone deaf.

“No one would ever state that Senator Ted Cruz is a natural-born politician who seeks out opportunities to do photo ops,” said Warren Norred, a member of the Texas State Republican Executive Committee. “I’m not trying to defend the action, I’m just saying that this is not a big deal.”

The low-key response underscores some Republicans’ willingness to rally around their own, even one considered unpopular among his Senate colleagues, like Cruz. That tacit support ensures that Cruz faces criticism only from Democrats, allowing him to deflect the attacks as partisan jockeying.

Senator John Cornyn, the state’s senior senator, didn’t criticize Cruz outright, but his Twitter feed has set a different example by being a frequently updated resource directory for Texans who need help.

Other Republicans said Democrats were trying to “cancel” Cruz and ignoring similarly tone-deaf behavior by Democrats, such as California Governor Gavin Newsom dining at a fancy restaurant in the Napa Valley at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Newsom is facing a recall campaign. They also said Cruz is doing the things a federal official can do in a crisis managed by state leaders.

“You’re welcome to turn on @tedcruz if you like,” Michael Berry, a conservative radio talk-show host in Houston, said on Twitter. “But he has done everything his voters have asked of him.”

Cruz returned to Texas on Thursday after facing a barrage of criticism for flying with his wife and two daughters to Cancun, Mexico, in the midst of Texas’s deadly winter crisis. A power grid failure left millions freezing in a rare winter storm that took temperatures on the Gulf Coast to single digits, and even as electricity is returning, millions are facing burst pipes and water shortages. About 30 people have died.

The Texas senator initially said he was just dropping off his daughters and always planned to return the next day. But texts from his wife, Heidi, to friends showed that the family planned a long weekend at the Ritz-Carlton in the resort city to escape their “FREEZING!” Houston house. Cruz later apologized and said the trip was “obviously a mistake.”

Cruz also asked the Houston police to escort him to and from the airport, another step that has been criticized for diverting law enforcement during a crisis.

Video clips of Cruz lugging his suitcase through the airport have been playing on a loop on cable television and social media with Democrats heaping criticism on him.

“Take our advice, senator, and resign,” the Houston Chronicle editorial said. “Seems like you could use a break and we could, too, from an ineffective politician who, even in crisis, puts his personal itinerary before the needs of Texans.”

But Fox News host Sean Hannity gave Cruz a sympathetic interview on his top-rated show on Thursday. And Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, said it’s not that big of a deal and he won’t “cancel” Cruz -- a reference to the conservative complaint about Democrats’ “cancel culture.”

Democrats are drawing the sharpest contrast in hopes of persuading Republican voters who suffered the disaster this week.

Former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, who narrowly lost to Cruz in 2018, has touted on social media his work to find warm shelter and food for victims through a network of volunteers. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a frequent Cruz foil, says she’s raised money for relief for Texans and plans to fly down there to distribute supplies.

The fact that Cruz doesn’t have to run again for three years means he can double-down on fundraising and deal with any political damage the episode may have caused -- as well as any lingering backlash from his decision to oppose the legally certified Electoral College votes for Joe Biden on Jan. 6 when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.

Republicans who have controlled all statewide offices in Texas since 1994 also have their own problems in the wake of the winter storm, with criticism about how they left the state’s electrical system vulnerable and how they’re responding to the crisis.

“It’s not that this is not damaging, but it’s not disqualifying,” Jillson said of the Cancun trip dust-up. “If Cruz has learned anything in his time in the Senate, it is that this too shall pass.”