Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Commentary: Ted Cruz goes full movie villain with his craven flight to Cancun

By Mary McNamara

Los Angeles Times

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, went full weasel this week, ditching his frozen, blacked-out state of Texas for the warmer climes of Cancun just like every smarmy, mid-level villain in every disaster movie you’ve ever seen. And then straight up lying when caught, just as if the internet, or flight records, did not exist.

On Wednesday night, images of Cruz and his family boarding a plane bound for Cancun began flashing across Twitter. Watching as the elected official 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. Better yet 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 oily, duplicitous, self-righteous middle-management type bad guy who sets bad things in motion, or makes them worse by complicit denial. 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, by the way, when every medical official has cautioned against unnecessary travel. Mexico, being one of the few countries that will allow U.S. citizens in, 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 LA 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). Still he could have done something; shovel snow, hand out coffee, raise some money for families in need. As many have pointed out, 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, and, as it turns out, just as factual.

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.”

If this seemed a bit hard to believe — was Heidi Cruz not up to the task of escorting the kids? — that’s because it was a lie. As reported by The New York Times, text messages from Heidi to friends and flight records revealed the trip had been put together to escape the Cruzes’ “freezing” house. The senator and his family had planned to stay at the Ritz Carlton until Saturday; his early return on Thursday was in response to the, er, blizzard of criticism he had received. Actually, he told reporters with exactly the kind of weaselly mendacity reserved for, say, the scientist who had known there was a monster but failed in his attempt to flee before it was set loose, he had had “second thoughts” the moment he got on the plane.

He still hung onto the “it was for the kids” excuse, however, noting that he had just been trying to give his daughters a break after “a very tough week.”

Shameless does not begin to describe the whole wretched, revealing incident, although “Cancun Cruz” feels like a moniker with staying power.

Still, Cruz has 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 while it would be delightful to hear the comments in the Senate next week — “Not much of a tan there, Ted” — it’s tough to imagine that even “Cancun Cruz” will have much 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.