WASHINGTON (AP) — Ted Cruz’s political career already featured many surprise twists before a jaunt to Mexico this week brought him a new level of notoriety.
The Texas senator was once the biggest threat to Donald Trump capturing the 2016 presidential nomination. During a particularly bitter stretch of that year’s Republican primary, Cruz called Trump a “coward” and “pathological liar.” By last month, however, Cruz was one of Trump’s staunchest allies and a leader in the former president’s baseless attempt to overturn the November election.
Such shifts are intended to keep Cruz in a strong position with the GOP base if he runs for the White House again in 2024. But they’ve also turned him into one of Washington’s most villainized figures, someone willing to take any politically convenient position if it keeps his future ambitions alive.
Cruz is under further attack for traveling to Cancun while his constituents suffered through a deadly winter storm that left hundreds of thousands without power and running water. His explanation — that his daughters pushed for the getaway because they were out of school — was particularly panned.
The optics of the trip are hardly ideal. But the question is whether, three years before he faces voters again, the political fallout will last.
“Ted Cruz is feeling the first post-Trump controversy,” said New Hampshire-based Republican strategist Mike Biundo. “I don’t think anybody knows exactly what will happen in this new reality that we’re living in.”
Before Trump got to Washington, scandals, lies and sometimes even simple but major gaffes wrecked political careers.
Despite later winning a congressional seat, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford will forever be remembered for fabricating a trek along the Appalachian Trail, just as former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was undone by repeated sexting scandals and ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry couldn’t live down the debate stage moment of forgetting the third of three federal agencies he’d promised to eliminate.
Once Trump was in the White House, his outlandish antics attracted so much attention that something that simply looked bad, like a senator’s leaving on vacation while his state was suffering, wouldn’t receive much notice.
Cruz is now navigating how much damage control is needed in a post-Trump political landscape.
He rushed home on Thursday and told reporters the trip was “obviously a mistake.” But he made no public appearances on Friday, and his office didn’t answer questions about his schedule or what he was doing to help Texans cope with the storm. His office simply released a statement backing Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for federal assistance.
Still, Cruz is still the best-known leader in the country’s largest red state, with a far higher national profile than Abbott, who has also been mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential contender, and Sen. John Cornyn, who coasted to reelection last year by a more comfortable margin than Cruz, who narrowly edged Democrat Beto O’Rourke in 2018.
Alice Stewart, a GOP strategist and veteran of Cruz’s presidential campaign, noted that the senator has years before…