The Texas blizzard nightmare is Republican governance in a nutshell
The United States is still in the middle of a murderous pandemic, and Texas has been suffering its worst power blackout in at least a decade, during a brutally cold winter storm. Lights were finally coming back on for many on Thursday, but still hundreds of thousands of people were without power or water — some since Sunday night. At least 21 people have died.
So Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) knew what to do: quietly nip down to Cancun for a bit of rest and relaxation. Numerous people on the plane recognized him, and the story was later confirmed by Fox News and NBC. It sparked an immediate political firestorm, and Cruz slunk back on Thursday. In a statement, he claimed he was simply following a request from his daughter — but he reportedly moved up his return date from Saturday only after the story spread.
It was all darkly amusing. But what Cruz did is emblematic of the Republican Party's mode of governance. The reason Cruz felt comfortable leaving Texans to freeze solid on the sidewalks of Houston is the same reason the Texas power grid crumpled under the winter storm. Theirs is a party in which catering to the welfare of one's constituents, or indeed any kind of substantive political agenda, has been supplanted by propaganda, culture war grievance, and media theatrics. Neither he nor anybody else in a leadership position in the party knows or cares about how to build a reliable power grid. They just want to get rich owning the libs.
The proximate reason the Texas grid failed was, at root, quite simple: It was not built to withstand freezing cold. As The Texas Tribune details, experts have been warning Texas politicians, power managers, and utility companies for years that the state is ill-prepared for a cold snap, as happened a decade ago. "In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state," reports the Tribune. "A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said."
People have known for decades how to winterize electrical infrastructure — after all, there is still power in Canada and Finland. The reason those investments haven't been made in Texas is because it would have cost a lot of money, and nobody wanted to pay for it — especially because the deregulated Texas energy grid makes it hard to pay for upgrades or extra capacity.
That in turn must be the fault of the Texas Republican Party. Democrats have not won a statewide election in Texas since 1994. Republicans have controlled the state's House of Representatives since 2003, and its Senate since 1997. The power deregulation plan was planned by conservative free-marketeers and signed into law by then-Gov. George W. Bush. All the key oversight posts have been filled by Republicans. And the Texas grid is uniquely contained within the state precisely to avoid federal regulations. The small parts of the state that are not contained in the Texas-only grid have been largely fine. It cannot possibly be the case that liberal Democrats have anything to do with this.
So naturally, instead of fixing the problem, several Texas Republicans and the right-wing propaganda machine instantly blamed wind turbines and the Green New Deal. Fox News and Fox Business repeated this line dozens of times — on Sean Hannity's show, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said "the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America," and asserted that renewable power failures "thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis." Rep. Dan Krenshaw blamed the crisis on "learning too many renewable energy lessons from California." Sen. John Cornyn posted a Wall Street Journal op-ed making a similar argument.
As I have previously written, this is a baldfaced lie — the overwhelming majority of power that got knocked out was natural gas (as well as some coal and nuclear), and the Texas grid operator expects little wind power during winter in any case. But even the fact that a few wind turbines did ice up is still the fault of Texas Republicans. It's not like it was Earth First! hippie insurgents putting turbines up across the state over the last decade; it was Texas power companies doing it because they produce cheap electricity. But when you want to harvest wind power, you have to be smart about it — otherwise the turbines might, to pick a completely random example, freeze up when you need them most, just like gas and nuclear plants will do if you don't insulate them.
Other Texas conservatives went even further. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry asserted: "Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business." The mayor of Colorado City, Texas, resigned after he posted a tirade on Facebook blaming individuals for losing power and water: "Only the strong will survive and the week will perish," he wrote. Demands for help are "sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW work and others will become dependent for handouts."
"Liberty," to people like this, means that conservative elected officials never have to use their positions or authority to do anything when their constituents are suffering and dying. That, you see, is socialism.
So in a way, it probably doesn't make much of a difference that Cruz abandoned his state to the freezing Arctic winds. It's not like he was going to do anything to help them. At best, we'll get some smarmy tweets now that he's back. These days, whining is the beginning and end of Republican governance.