What Disaster-Communications Consultants Would Inform Ted Cruz
He did what?
Senator Ted Cruz was never shortlisted for the Most Empathetic Politician Award. But his latest exhibition terrified even the most jaded political hands.
With Cruz’s home state of Texas hit by a snow storm that caused widespread power outages and claimed dozens of lives across the country, Cruz got on a plane last night and flew to Cancun, Mexico for a family vacation. Photos were shared on social media this morning, accompanied by a chorus of dismay and ridicule.
In the early afternoon, he released a statement that his children wanted to take a vacation, arguing that he could still work from abroad. “I wanted to be a good father, I flew with them last night and I’m flying back this afternoon,” he said, adding that he wanted to come home today.
Later, after arriving back in the United States, Cruz said the trip was “obviously a mistake” and that he began “guessing” it as soon as he got on the plane to Mexico.
I’ve called some crisis communications professionals who have worked with other contested politicians to get the Cruz fiasco under control. They all sang a variation on the same theme: Wow.
“You can damage control pretty much anything, and I think he could do damage control for it,” said Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist who worked on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign last year. Still, she added, “You have to wonder what the hell he was thinking to do this. The look couldn’t be much worse. “
Stu Loeser, longtime press secretary for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who often made discreet trips to Bermuda while in office, was also amazed at Cruz’s decision to fly the Coop in one of his state’s most vulnerable moments in recent years.
“The hardest part in politics and the hardest part in crisis communication is the same thing: being able to predict the future,” said Loeser. “But in this case people have been without electricity for days. You knew what was going to happen. “
Risa Heller, a crisis advisor who advised the disgraced ex-Rep Anthony Weiner, said that even in a fast-paced 24-hour news cycle, getting through Cruz’s vacation could be difficult. “It will stay with him for a long time,” she said. “People in Texas will not forget that a man they chose to look out for their interests took a vacation in their darkest time.”
She added, “Sometimes someone leaves town and something crazy happens and they have to come back. You can say, “I understand.” But that’s not that. This storm happened and then it went. It sends a real message to its constituents. I think time will tell if he’ll be forgiven, but it’s pretty unforgivable. “
Republican strategist Joel Sawyer helped former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford weather the 2009 scandal over his secret vacation with a lover who was nearing the end of his political career. (He eventually ended his tenure as governor and later regained his old seat in the house.) Sawyer said that after Sanford left the governor’s mansion, he worked to restore his reputation by offering repentance.
Sawyer wasn’t so sure if Cruz was tempted to do the same. “Yes, he can do damage control, but it takes great humility on his part,” he said. “I’m not sure how much of that Ted Cruz can muster.”
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