When he burst onto the scene in 2012, Ted Cruz pulled a remarkable political feat. He defeated a well-known three-term lieutenant governor and other top contenders to win Kay Bailey Hutchison's Senate seat, despite a low-political profile heading into the race.
Cruz understood before his rivals that the tea party sentiment and desire for a "fighter" had firmly taken hold among staunch Texas Republicans. His political instincts carried him to an upset and then almost to the GOP presidential nomination four years later, until he ran into an even bigger disrupter, Donald Trump.
Cruz's instincts--and his judgment--have abandoned him now. The junior senator from a state where millions of residents have been freezing without power, lacking safe drinking water and running out of food took off for Cancun sometime last week with his family.
To be clear, Cancun is not part of Texas. Cruz was not working, unless applying another coat of sunscreen counts as a senatorial duty.
"Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon," he said last week. "My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas."
That explanation is, at best, implausible. The Associated Press reported that the Cruzes were on a long-planned family trip. And even if Cruz was merely escorting his wife and daughters, it reeks of a privilege that most Texans cannot enjoy as their pipes burst or their water dwindles.
Cruz has come in for the usual online bashing, and in this case, it's fully deserved.
It's not that Cruz could do much to contribute to relief efforts, other than harangue federal officials. The state and private utilities, however imperfectly, run the show on getting power up and running, and water is mostly a municipal matter. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has already swung in, too.
No, it's mostly the optics. And in this case, they're unforgivably bad. Elected officials should be standing with their constituents, not sticking their toes in the warm sand.
In 2024, Cruz is going to ask Republican voters, and then possibly the wider electorate, to nominate him for the presidency or return him to the Senate for a third term.
These jobs require good judgment. And no matter what Cruz says between now and then, we have our answer about his.