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Why Ted Cruz grabbed a shovel after falling into a ditch

Confronted with a real crisis, Cruz isn't focused on solutions; he's focused on proving to Republicans that he's playing their culture-war game.
Image: Impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump continues in Washington
Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to members of the media during the fifth day of the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump on Feb. 13, 2021.Erin Scott / Reuters

It's not exactly a secret that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) ran into a little trouble last week when his constituents lacked access to reliable power and water, and he responded by taking off for a vacation in Mexico. The Republican conceded this was "a mistake."

As part of his damage-control strategy, Cancun Cruz turned to Fox News' Sean Hannity to help cover for him last week, and last night, the senator once again sought out the comfortable confines of Hannity's program.

The interview began with the host encouraging Texas to continue to operate its own energy grid, independent of the United States' system. It was a curious recommendation: Texas' experiment in deregulation and independence helped create last week's systemic breakdown.

But moments later, Cruz shared some related thoughts on the lessons he's learned.

"We just came off of a very difficult week where the grid failed 4 million Texans. And so, we need to have a serious examination about why that was, why the grid came short, but one of the major elements of that is actually the policy that [Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer] is pushing for the whole country, which is the Green New Deal. You look at Texas right now, about 25 percent of our electricity capacity is wind.... The reality was, in the cold, the wind turbines froze and the power generation wasn't there. That needs to be fixed."

To the extent that reality still has meaning, the senator's comments were plainly ridiculous. As Cruz surely knows, his home state of Texas has not adopted the Green New Deal; the Green New Deal is about far more than just wind turbines; wind power does not represent a quarter of the state's energy; and the idea that wind power is unreliable in the cold is belied by the fact that from New England to Scandinavia to Antarctica, similar systems work just fine.

Again, the senator is not dumb. He knows all of this. The fact that Cruz ran to Fox News to peddle nonsensical talking points had nothing to do with his belief in these demonstrably foolish claims.

Rather, Cruz is playing a deceptive political game. Having been roasted for fleeing his state while his constituents suffered, the GOP senator is trying to work his way back into his party's good graces -- not by tackling energy policy in a serious way, but by pretending Republicans' ideological foes should be blamed for a breakdown they had nothing do to with.

The New York Times' Jamelle Bouie explained a few days ago, "Faced with one of the worst crises in the recent history of the state, Republicans have turned their attention away from conditions on the ground and toward the objects of their ideological ire. The issue isn't energy policy; it is liberals and environmentalists.... Amid awful suffering and deteriorating conditions, Texas Republicans decided to fight a culture war."

The Atlantic's Adam Serwer added yesterday, "[I]f your party produced years of deregulation and misgovernance that led to a deadly disaster in your state, you might want to change the subject to wind power too. Waging the culture war didn't keep the lights on in Texas, but it might keep ambitious Republican failures in office. If politicians don't fear being punished for not doing their jobs, they won't do them."

And that's precisely what Cruz sought to do with Hannity last night: prove to his team that he's still playing their game. His enemies are their enemies. His culture war is their culture war. His indifference toward governing and problem-solving mirrors their own.

Confronted with a real crisis, the Texas senator isn't focused on solutions; he's focused on Chuck Schumer, a climate policy that hasn't been tried, and demonstrably false details Cruz assumes Fox News viewers will simply accept as true.

This won't help his constituents the next time they lack reliable access to power and water, but it might help Cruz win re-election.