By Michael Coleman
For the Express-News
Texans got a double dose of awful news in late January. We learned our state lost more jobs in 2020 than any year on record, and that intensive care units in 50 Texas hospitals were full, overwhelmed by a deadly and persistent pandemic.
With these grim facts in hand, Sen. Ted Cruz took to Twitter to trade juvenile insults with Hollywood actor Seth Rogen and share a preening picture of himself — unmasked — standing with four National Guardsmen called to Washington to protect the city from a right-wing insurrection that he helped inflame. A week later, while trashing President Joe Biden’s climate plan, Cruz lamented that the people of Pittsburgh would suffer under his decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Pittsburgh?
It all begged the question: What are you doing, Sen. Cruz? Seriously, what are you doing for Texas? The answer – as usual – is not much, just grandstanding.
The junior senator from Texas desperately wants us to forget the everlasting shame he brought on himself with seditious calls to block Joe Biden’s legitimate claim to the U.S. presidency. Many prominent voices rained outrage on Cruz and called for his resignation in the days after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, but perhaps former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro captured the nation’s collective disdain best.
“Ted Cruz is like Trump: he would watch democracy burn if he got to rule the ashes,” Castro tweeted. “He has embarrassed Texas and the entire nation.”
It’s clear Cruz will continue playing to the national media, hoping his faux-populism will help him win over enough deluded Trump voters to fuel his own presidential ambitions in 2024. But back here in Texas, we’re considering Cruz’s record and shaking our heads in dismay. We love this great state, but let’s face it: Texas has serious problems. We’re one of the least educated states in America, our health care is abysmal, and we’re nearly dead last in environmental quality.
Sadly, Texans don’t see Cruz bothering himself with those issues. That’s because he’s the ultimate Washington show pony, whether he’s convening breathtakingly dishonest hearings to minimize the climate crisis, triggering a 17-day government shutdown with a futile filibuster to kill Obamacare or blocking sensible immigration reform.
Legislating to get results for a state as big and complex as Texas takes hard work and consensus building. Cruz has shown little capacity for either, with the amiable former Republican House Speaker John Boehner once declaring that he’d never worked with a “more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
There have been fleeting moments when the junior senator from Texas showed interest in doing the hard work of legislating and consensus building, such as when he vowed to work with liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to ban members of Congress from lobbying after leaving office. That was exciting, but predictably, once the headlines faded, so did Cruz’s interest. Now, there is little chance the two controversial politicians will resume these discussions, especially after Ocasio-Cortez accused Cruz of “trying to get me killed” after the Jan. 6 raid on the U.S. Capitol. Cruz scoffed, chalking her accusation up to “partisan rage and anger.”
Conservative Texans embraced Cruz’s flamboyant and articulate crusades against Democratic Party ideals during his first term, but it’s clear his appeal is fading. When Democrat Beto O’Rourke ran for Cruz’s Senate seat in 2018 he came within three points of victory, marking the closest contest for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas since 1978. Now, a group of disaffected Republicans led by Olivia Troye, who served as former Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser, has ordered 16 billboards across Texas demanding that Cruz and fellow Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert resign.
“I’m a Texas Republican. I grew up in Texas. I love Texas,” Troye told the Dallas Morning News. “These people have shown repeatedly they’re unfit for office.”
With his popularity suffering, Cruz is resuming his favorite role: seeking the limelight, demagoguing and antagonizing Democrats to shore up support for a presidential run in 2024. That may work for Fox News and the right-wing Breitbart news site, but Texans are increasingly seeing Cruz for what he is: A cynical politician who is all about himself, with little to show for his constituents.
Michael Coleman is the communications strategist for Public Citizen’s Texas office. He was the Albuquerque Journal’s Washington correspondent from 2000-2018.