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Skedaddle excuses say much about character of 'Cancun Cruz'

Skedaddle excuses say much about character of 'Cancun Cruz'
© Greg Nash

He was trying to be a good dad to his daughters who asked to take a trip with their friends, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) explained. But he had “second thoughts almost immediately because of the crisis here in Texas” and decided to drop the daughters off in a luxury hotel in Cancun, Mexico, and return home the next day. When text messages from his wife revealed another motive — an escape from a winter storm that left millions of Texans without power and running water — Cruz acknowledged he had “obviously made a mistake.”

Critics skewered him. In 2015, they pointed out, Cruz tweeted that “if only terrorists attacked a golf course” they might get President Obama’s attention. In 2020, he blasted Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, for telling citizens in his city to stay home and then jetting off to Cabo, Mexico: “Hypocrites, complete and utter hypocrites.”

Famously hard to like, Cruz’s “mistake” may linger in the minds of voters. Far more important, in my judgment, are the defects in Cruz’s character and his commitment of convenience to certain conservative doctrines — deregulation and the limited role of the federal government — that were put into bold relief by the firestorm over the snowstorm.

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In August 2020, when California officials responded to wildfires with rolling blackouts, Cruz mocked the state’s officials for an  inability “to perform even basic functions of civilization like having reliable electricity… Hope you don’t like air conditioning.” Some angry left-wingers, he added, “think California is the only place that has Summer. It’s hot everywhere… but the rest of the country doesn’t have such a dysfunctional state government that you can’t turn the lights on.”

When Texas took its turn in the national disaster spotlight, Cruz changed his tune.

Of the lower 48 states, Texas alone maintains its own electric grid (to avoid federal regulation). Warned repeatedly that its infrastructure had decayed and should be winterized, the legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott refused to mandate upgrades. When disaster struck, Texas could not borrow power from its neighbors.

And consumers paid the price of the Lone Star State’s free pass to energy companies to issue variable rate contracts, tied to spot prices. The Texas Public Utility Commissioners looked the other way as prices rose from 12 cents to $9 per kilowatt hour. Some households saw their bills spike to $5,000-$10,000 a month. Those not subject to variable rates will almost certainly see substantial price increases as well.

Sen. Cruz, who in 2019 advocated exporting his state’s market-based energy system, a “recipe for success, to more and more states,” now claimed “that no power company should get a windfall because of a natural disaster and Texans shouldn’t get hammered by ridiculous rate increases for last week’s energy debacle. State and local regulators should act swiftly to prevent this injustice.”

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Consistent only in pursuit of his own self-interest, Cruz’s attitude toward federal government disaster relief varies with who gets aid.

Between 2013 and 2017, when President Obama was president, Cruz voted against five supplementary disaster assistance bills. In 2013, he maintained, falsely, that “two-thirds of what was spent” on Hurricane Sandy, much of it earmarked for New York and New Jersey, “had little to do” with addressing the disaster.

In 2017, however, Cruz supported federal legislation to help Texans ravaged by Hurricane Harvey. Before catching his flight to Cancun in February 2021, Cruz asked President Biden for a disaster declaration and federal aid to all 254 counties in Texas. Citing “prolonged sub-freezing temperatures, strained energy capacity, and treacherous roadways,” Cruz asserted that “the severity and magnitude of the storm is beyond the response capabilities of the state and local governments.” Relief from natural disasters, he declared, “has been a vital federal role for a long, long time and it should continue.” Asked about his earlier votes, Cruz responded, “There’s time for political sniping later.”

A selective deficit hawk, who received more money from oil and gas companies in his 2018 re-election campaign than any other U.S. Senator, Cruz supports an end to federal government subsidies for ethanol but not, of course, for Big Oil. He pushed to make sure Texas energy companies, including two of his biggest donors, received loans from the Federal Reserve program designed to help companies weather the pandemic, and Congress lifted the $25 million cap on individual appropriations.

As David Graham has written in The Atlantic, Senator Cruz’s behavior itself constitutes “a kind of power failure.”

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of "Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century."