Defending Cancun Cruz, GOP media suddenly claim optics don’t matter

Olympic hypocrisy

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Ted Cruz slinked home from Mexico yesterday, starring in a controversy of his own making. While millions of Texans were without power, heat, and water and facing life-threatening condition as the Lone Star state struggled with a winter storm of epic proportions — for which the state’s Republican leaders seem completely incapable of managing — the Texas Republican jetted off for the radiant skies of Cancun with his family.

It was an extraordinary display of callousness for a seasoned public official, signaling that Cruz prizes his privilege over public service, and that he didn't think twice about grabbing a few days in the sun while his home state faced a historic, deadly natural disaster.

Cruz only compounded his woes by spinning furiously, claiming he had only intended to fly to Mexico for one night with his family because his young daughters wished to go, and wanting "to be a good dad” he then quickly purchased tickets, arrived at the airport with a full bag of luggage, and took off for his overnight. Cruz's staff also contacted the Houston Police Department against the backdrop of an unfolding catastrophe across the region, and requested officers "assist the Senator in his arrival and movements through the Houston International Airport."

Oh my.

It's certainly one of the most stunning, self-inflicted public relations wounds seen in recent years. It's not possible to defend Cruz's brazen actions. But lots of right-wing media players tried to downplay it by adopting a remarkable talking point — it didn’t matter! It didn't matter that Cruz went to Cancun because, as a U.S. senator, it wasn't like he could get power restored on the ground in Texas. In other words, while trying to shield the senator, conservatives insisted that optics don't matter in politics.

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"The simple truth is that Senators don’t do a whole lot other than VOTE. The rest of it is mainly fundraising, posturing, photo ops, etc," tweeted convicted felon and right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza. "Some people think it looks bad for @tedcruz to be in Cancun, but in the end does everything come down to “looks,” ie appearances?'“

A guest on the far-right NewsmaxTV network stressed that, "in this day and time we can communicate, we can get things done remotely. And perhaps, if things are as bad in Texas as I've heard, he may have a better opportunity to do it remotely."

Cruz was actually getting more done jetting back and forth to Cancun!

"He's in DC. What's he supposed to do, fly to Texas to freeze in solidarity or something?," one National Review podcast host tweeted, erroneously suggesting Cruz left for Mexico from D.C.

"It's not a real time crisis that Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, can do anything about," insisted Ben Shaprio. "He is a federal elected official. This is up to the mayor of Houston and, like, the governor of Texas and all of the people who are state-level officials. Do they expect Ted to go there with, like, a blowtorch and start defrosting all of the pipelines?"

See? Because he's not physically able to fix the Texas power grid, there's nothing wrong with Cruz vacationing at a Ritz Carlton resort while his constituents huddle in their freezing, darkened homes. 

“There’s a difference between a government official violating lockdown rules he or she voted for and a guy taking a vacation," right-wing Internet troll Mike Cernovich posted. "Folks, this isn’t hard.”

To say this defense represents a stunning reversal from GOP media's long held worldview would be a Herculean understatement. Optics have been the protein fueling the conservative movement for decades, and with the advent of Fox News it blossomed into an even more powerful entity — Phony Outrage, which serves as a right-wing cottage industry. Murdoch’s cable network makes a pile of profits each year by overreacting to imagined Democratic slights, while Shapiro's entire career revolves around it.

Concocting things to be outraged about isn't just a by-product of the conservative press, it's become the entire purpose of the right-wing, victimized media. For them to now say Cruz's trip was no big deal because optics don't matters, represents an Olympic bout of hypocrisy.

Just this month, Fox News tried to create a controversy over the fact that President Joe Biden was scheduled to fly to his home in Delaware. Pointing to CDC guidelines which urge Americans not to travel, Fox News suggested hypocrisy was in play — it just doesn’t look good! Spoiler: Americans are urged not to travel in order to avoid crowded airports and planes, which isn't exactly a problem when traveling on Air Force One.

And remember when Nancy Pelosi's fancy freezer full of ice cream became a days-long Phony Outrage news event last spring?

"It's not the ice cream in her fridge, it's the fact that she's standing behind giant refrigerators, multiple ones that cost $24,000 each, and you're right -- politicians are wealthy, Trump is wealthy, but I think in this specific moment, optics are narratives," Meghan McCain announced on The View. "I don't make the rules of politics, this is just how it works."

The GOP media’s library of Phony Outrages is truly endless. The volumes follow the same plot and they're all supposed to represent glimpses into the souls of crooked Democrats. But today, Cruz deserves a pass for walking away from a crisis and high tailing it to a luxury hotel in Cancun?

As the old song goes, “Mexico, it sounds so simple I just gotta go.”

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(photo Getty Images)

🚧 GOOD STUFF:

It looks like conditions in Texas could have actually been worse.

From the Texas Tribune’s “Texas Was "Seconds and Minutes" Away From Catastrophic Monthslong Blackouts, Officials Say”:

Grid operators had to act quickly to cut the amount of power distributed, [ERCOT president Bill] Magness said, because if they had waited, “then what happens in that next minute might be that three more [power generation] units come offline, and then you’re sunk.”

Magness said on Wednesday that if operators had not acted in that moment, the state could have suffered blackouts that “could have occurred for months,” and left Texas in an “indeterminately long” crisis.

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🎤 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Luke Combs & Bill Strings, "The Great Divide"

I give credit to all musicians who use their platforms to engage with current events, who take a time out from hit-making to address the real world and its problems. In this brand new effort, country and bluegrass stars Combs and Strings sing about the nation's deep polarization, and do it with a quiet, haunting hymn.

We're all so far, so far apart now
It's as deep as it is wide
We're about to fall apart now
If we can't reach the other side
We gotta find a way across the great divide
The great divide