February 6, 2023


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Ted Cruz goes full movie villain with craven flight to Cancun

Last night, as I did my pandemic-ritualized “any fresh hell?” bedtime media platform scroll, images of Ted Cruz boarding a plane bound for Cancun began flashing across my Twitter feed. Watching as the Texas senator departed the state he represents, a state currently caught in the grip of a rare winter storm that has left millions without power or heat, all I could think of was Richard Chamberlain’s smarmy corner-cutting electrical subcontractor in “The Towering Inferno.”

You know, the guy who helped make the landmark skyscraper into a death trap and then did everything he could to get out when it went up in flames, even if it meant leaving people to burn.

Or maybe it was Jason Isaacs’ Lucius Malfoy, slinking away with his family as Voldemort prepares to destroy all in his path. Paul Reiser’s Burke in “Aliens” and Sam Owens in “Stranger Things,” or Jeremy Irons’ Scar in “The Lion King” — all revealing their complicity and cowardice in the face of real danger.

That guy. The weaselly, duplicitous, tough-talking middle-management type villain who sets bad things in motion, or completely denies they are happening until it is far too late. The guy who likes to be front and center when all is going well, but as soon as the going gets tough does everything he can to take care of himself.

“Please, Simba, please, I just needed a vacation.”

On Wednesday, many first responders, civic leaders and concerned citizens from all over the country struggled to aid the people of Texas during their ongoing crisis, caused in part by an imperfect and isolationist electrical grid and in part by a storm that many scientists have identified as yet another example of fatal extreme weather caused by climate change.

Meanwhile, the Lone Star State’s most famous senator — that climate change-denying, isolationism-preaching, self-proclaimed true patriot — was chilling in an aisle seat bound for Mexico.

In the middle of a pandemic. When every medical official has cautioned against unnecessary travel. Mexico has become an especially popular destination for Americans seeking to flout these recommendations and seek refuge from our country’s more stringent COVID-19 restrictions, with — as The Times’ Kate Linthicum reported in December — predictable results: Coronavirus cases in Mexico spiked as the tourists began disembarking this summer.

Cruz wore a mask as he fled for sunnier climes, so I suppose that’s something, but how stupid do you have to be to think that images of you leaving the state you represent in the middle of a crisis-within-a-crisis were not going to be all over the internet in a matter of minutes?

Predictably, the Democratic Party of Texas has called for Cruz’s resignation. Just as predictably, certain conservatives rushed to defend the indefensible with the inevitable absurd results. “If he’s in Cancun, that means he’s not using up valuable resources,” Dinesh D’Souza tweeted. “This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now.”

Um, when the best thing a senator can do for a state struggling even to distribute FEMA aid is go to Cancun, Texans really might want to reconsider that particular senator. Obviously, Cruz cannot single-handedly fix the very broken Texas power grid situation (though just a few months ago, he was too busy poking fun at blackout- and wildfire-plagued California to consider what kind of shape his own state’s natural disaster plan was in). But I’m going to assume that the Cruz household has sufficient heat, power, water and food and I have heard no reports of them offering it up to their fellow citizens as they made their way to the airport.

As many have pointed out on social media, plenty of other officials, current and former, are on the ground providing comfort and relief. While Cruz was making his way out of town, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke — whom Cruz defeated in the 2018 Senate race — was holding a virtual event that helped volunteers locate and aid suffering seniors.

Though the office of the former and potentially future presidential candidate was not available for comment on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, the Houston Police Department confirmed to many outlets that Cruz’s staff had contacted them for assistance with his arrival at and movements through the airport.

Because in the middle of a state-wide emergency during which millions are shivering in the dark without water or power, the Houston police have nothing better to do.

In the absence of any official Cruz comment, comedian Blaire Erskine filled the void with a video of herself as a spokesperson for the senator, defending his need to have an “Eat Pray Love” moment. The parody was so spot-on that some people — OK, me — actually fell for it.

In fairness to me, though, Cruz’s actual defense — it was all for my kids! — was only slightly less bizarre.

After more than 12 hours of social media obsession over his whereabouts, the senator released a statement praising himself for taking the trip — simply an act of parental selflessness, he said. “With school canceled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.”

Just like, say, Lucius Malfoy, hustling Draco to safety.

This sounds suspiciously like something a politician would say after a social media outcry over an unnecessary international trip; was Heidi Cruz, who also appears in various photos, not up to the task of escorting the kids? And bonus CYA points to Cruz for using his daughters as a public relations shield. But even if what he said is true, his flight is still not a good look. In an interview earlier this week, Cruz cautioned Texans to “keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids.” Is he not a Texan? Do his kids not need to be kept safe and hugged?

He’s managed, thus far, to hold onto his job despite his considerable efforts to overturn the fair and legal presidential election, efforts that included actively inciting the insurrectionist mob that took over the Capitol building on Jan. 6, so it’s tough to imagine that the image of Cruz ditching iced-in, power-strained Texas for sun and fun in Cancun will have much of an impact.

Then again, as every actor who has ever played “that guy” knows, your chances of surviving to the end of the movie are pretty slim.