WASHINGTON — As 3 million Texans shivered in the dark, Sen. Ted Cruz jetted off to Cancun with his family, outed instantly by fellow vacationers and berated by critics for abandoning constituents during an epic statewide power crisis.
Social media photos from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport and aboard the flight to the sun-drenched beach resort flourished Wednesday evening. By Thursday, when temperatures along Mexico’s Caribbean coast were on track to hit 83 degrees, the pile-on was at full boil.
Detractors dusted off vintage Cruz comments denying the existence of climate change and decrying Democrats coastal elites who care not a whit for the plight of ordinary Americans.
With Cancun, CancunCruz and FlyinTed (an homage to Donald Trump’s “Lyin’ Ted” epithet) trending online – along with “Heidi,” as in Heidi Cruz, his wife – the senator remained uncharacteristically silent on Twitter.
Aides ignored inquiries about the uproar the boss’s getaway triggered.
Cruz “is vacationing in Cancun right now when people are literally freezing to death in the state that he was elected to represent and serve,” Beto O’Rourke – the former El Paso congressman who narrowly lost to Cruz in 2018 – chided on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Houston is under a hard freeze watch. By Thursday morning, the number of Texans without power had dipped below 600,000. And as the relative handful of defenders pointed out, unlike a governor, a senator has no direct responsibility for emergency management.
Still, Cruz appeared to have bought a ticket for the Thursday afternoon flight home – cutting the vacation far too short for a sunburn, yet certainly long enough to get blistered.
Ted Cruz going to Cancun for vacation as his constituents freeze to death is peak Ted Cruz
Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke is working as hard as anyone in America to help the people of Texas
One of these two men deserves to be an elected official, the other a cabana boy at Mar-a-Lago
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) February 18, 2021
The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican group that has had its own massive public relations challenges lately amid allegations of sexual harassment by one of its founders, poked at Cruz by tweeting: “When the going gets tough… head to Cancun, baby!”
Bill Kristol, head of a different group of anti-Trump Republican, was so irate he mistakenly accused Cruz of heading to “Canton.”
An administration’s reaction to an unanticipated event can help define it–eg, air controllers or Katrina. What of Texas? Abbott’s ineffectual, Cruz in Canton–could a strong Biden response be a key moment (and do good!)? Deploy military, get W. to mobilize private sector, etc.?
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) February 18, 2021
State Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, posted a photo of Cruz boarding the flight and taunted: “Guess which US Senator from Texas flew to Cancun while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water?”
There was no doubt about the Cruzes’ identity.
Cruz wore the same mask he wore during President Joe Biden’s inauguration and Trump’s second impeachment trial: gray, with a black cannon and “Come and Take it,” a design reminiscent of flags used by Texans during the 1835 revolution against Mexico – a provocative choice, given the destination.
Online sleuths matched his hairline, glasses, ring and tennis shoes to previous photos of him.
Photos put them near the United Airlines gate for the 4:10 p.m. flight to Cancun, which landed just before 8 p.m.
Fellow passengers posted selfies from onboard with Cruz behind them, and photos just of him, or of him and Heidi. Some wrote on Facebook that they’d spoken with him.
It’s not as though Cruz can walk through a Texas airport unrecognized.
He’s been in the Senate for eight years. He was runner-up for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. His name ID in the state is near total; a University of Texas poll last fall found that 96% of Texans had some opinion about him.
Unlike, say, Irving congresswoman Beth Van Duyne, who posted a photo of herself huddling near a fireplace because like millions of other Texans, she had lost power and heat, Cruz and his family suffered no such challenges that might prompt a trip to warmer climes.
On Monday, Cruz told conservative talk show host Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo that ”thankfully, my home, we didn’t lose power. So right now we’ve got a bunch of the neighborhood kids all over playing with our girls, because their parents lost power and our house was lucky. So we’ve got kids running up and down the stairs right now.“
Noting the dangerous conditions, he added this advice to fellow Texans, a day before heading to the airport: “If you can stay home, don’t go out on the roads, don’t risk the ice. … Don’t risk it. Keep your family safe, and just stay home and hug your kids.”
Julián Castro, a former Obama housing secretary and San Antonio Mayor, said Cruz “should be on the phone with federal agencies, not on a trip to Mexico,” asserting that “in crises like these, members of Congress play a critical role connecting their constituents to emergency services and assistance.”
In crises like these, members of Congress play a critical role connecting their constituents to emergency services and assistance. @tedcruz should be on the phone with federal agencies, not on a trip to Mexico. https://t.co/bjbehcaAwi
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) February 18, 2021
Defenders such as Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative commentator pardoned by Trump in 2018 for making an illegal campaign contribution, argued there was little Cruz could do if he’d stayed in Texas, while in Cancun, “he’s not using up valuable resources of energy, food and water that can now be used by someone else. This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now.”
“Senate is out, he can afford it,” wrote one reader, Dallas resident Mark Gist. “What exactly is the problem?”
Conservative pundit Erick Erickson called it “ignorance” for anyone to think a senator “can do anything about a state power grid,” drawing a rebuttal that, given his vast network and high profile, Cruz is “uniquely positioned” to catalyze relief efforts.
O’Rourke, no longer in office, led a “Texas welfare check” phone bank that made 151,000 calls on Wednesday to connect vulnerable Texans to warming centers, meals and other resources, for instance.
What could @tedcruz do if he were here in Texas? I’m hard-pressed to say. If he’s in Cancun, that means he’s not using up valuable resources of energy, food and water that can now be used by someone else. This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now
— Dinesh D’Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 18, 2021
Some online likened Cruz to Marie Antoinette, the queen during the French Revolution who purportedly quipped “let them eat cake” when told that the people were starving and had no bread.
“Let them fly to Cancun,” one detractor imagined Cruz replying when told that Texans were cold.
Actor Billy Baldwin took it a step further: “Let them eat snow.”
The Texas Democratic Party issued its 21st demand for Cruz to resign, unsolicited advice that Cruz has long shrugged off as political opportunism. Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa accused “Cancun Cruz” of “abandoning us in our greatest time of need,” and said the vacation shows that “Texas Republicans don’t give a damn about you or me.”
Such calls have come with escalating frequency since Trump’s defeat in November, when Cruz began amplifying his false claims that the election had been stolen through fraud.
At American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic group, president Bradley Beychok said Cruz was apparently “sipping mai tais on a beach in Cancun” – though margaritas and cerveza would be more common – as millions of Texans freeze.
“Senator Cruz should do his constituents a favor and stay on the beach instead of getting paid by taxpayers to do a job he clearly has no interest in doing,” he said. “It’s been clear since he unapologetically helped incite a violent insurrection on January 6 that Ted Cruz is not fit to represent Texas in the United States Senate. He needs to resign so Texans can have a Senator who actually gives a damn.”
CNN, Politico and other major outlets were hounding Cruz aides for any sort of explanation, with no more success than home state news media.
Punchbowl News found what appeared to be Cruz’s name on the upgrade list for a United flight back to Houston Thursday afternoon, suggesting a hasty retreat, though within an hour, Cruz’s name had disappeared. Nor did it show up on upgrade lists for two later flights.
With Cruz aides ignoring inquiries, his plans remained something of a mystery.
Here’s the upgrade list for this afternoon’s flight from Cancun to Houston.
That’s assuming that “cru, r” is him. And I do. pic.twitter.com/CqfKa5rJfG
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) February 18, 2021
It’s not always a given that a comms office feels the need to confirm or deny bad intel. But you’d think at this juncture if that wasn’t Ted Cruz in Cancun his staff would have said so.
— Sam Stein (@samstein) February 18, 2021
The Senate has been in recess since Saturday afternoon, when Cruz and 44 other Republicans voted to acquit Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection.
By Thursday morning, Cruz had remained quiet online. Shortly after the flight landed, he retweeted a tweet from Gov. Greg Abbott noting that 1.6 million customers had power restored on Wednesday.
In December, Cruz hit Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other Democrats as “utter hypocrites” for ignoring pandemic guidelines to avoid unnecessary travel.
“Don’t forget @MayorAdler who took a private jet with eight people to Cabo and WHILE IN CABO recorded a video telling Austinites to `stay home if you can…this is not the time to relax.’” he tweeted.
You’re right. But you and your fellow slime bags are hypocrites, too.
— Nobody over 17 should eat Takis (@Jaxon95228411) December 2, 2020
Charlotte Clymer, a former spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, quipped that she was “kinda shocked Ted Cruz is able to fly anywhere with all his baggage” and that she expected to the radicalized Texas GOP to find a way to blame the uproar on Antifa.
“My grandmother is a third-generation Texan. She’s not in her own home right now. She’s at a relative’s house, where their power is still off, too, because they have a fireplace to keep everyone relatively warm. And Ted Cruz took a vacay to Cancún,” she wrote on Twitter.
My grandmother is a third-generation Texan. She’s not in her own home right now. She’s at a relative’s house, where their power is still off, too, because they have a fireplace to keep everyone relatively warm.
And Ted Cruz took a vacay to Cancún.
— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) February 18, 2021
through his office and campaign, ted cruz has thousands of contacts across the state and direct access to the kinds of people who can help organize and deliver relief. for someone who isn’t in the texas government itself, he is uniquely positioned to help. https://t.co/djnndcI0MS
— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) February 18, 2021
p class=”body-text-paragraph”>Washington correspondent Tom Benning contributed to this report.