I didn't pursue a career in public relations, for which my (almost completed) communications major would have prepared me. I find the idea of being a paid, professional bullshitter a little nauseating, to be honest. (My apologies to my friends who do PR for a living. I love you. I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about that other guy.) It would often cross my mind, as I studied for classes like Crisis Communication, that it felt gross to me that I was learning how to help bad people look good. I didn't want to spend my life making gross things look "not gross."
And yet, I am always fascinated by PR train wrecks, and the fact that it is someone's job to prevent them from happening. Or at least clean up the mess if you can't avoid the damage. In other words: I don't want to do it for a living, but DAMN if it isn't entertaining to watch others do it.
Either way, I love seeing a real-life COMMS class unfold in front me, and watching the way a team of paid professionals tries to make it look like their idiot client did not do the idiot thing that the idiot client so obviously did. If PR people do their job right, they can bring someone back from a really stupid decision. Technically, if they're doing it right, their guy doesn't make the stupid decision (publicly) in the first place. And, if they do it wrong, sometimes we see that bad guys actually get the consequences they deserve. It's like an episode of Chopped, but for communication geeks.
It is for this reason that I am absolutely transfixed with this whole "Fled Cruz" situation. Because, truly: Either his PR team is grossly incompetent, or they are doing a phenomenal job of turning Ted Cruz into the next Donald J. Trump. Maybe it's a little bit of both.
I posted last week about my utter bafflement at Cruz' decision to travel to Cancun during Texas Snowmageddon. Because, yes– he's my senator, and I am truly shocked that he would just cut and run during a natural disaster. But, from a PR perspective: ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! If it's your job to make sure your homie looks good, or at least as good as possible, don't let your guy get on the plane in the first place. He doesn't have to do much, because this kind of thing really isn't his responsibility. But, at a bare minimum, someone should have at least told him, "Yo, that's not a good look. Maybe sit this one out."
Predictably, as news of his trip circulated the web, his supporters were quick to point out that he didn't have any authority to really "do" anything here on the ground. I saw a lot of comments ranging from, "It's not what it looks like," to "I would have done the same thing!" (Which: no, you wouldn't have. You can't afford to just drop what you're doing and fly your entire family to Mexico just because you feel like it. Nobody can. Stop it.) But once news of the Cancun trip spread, most people weren't buying it, and Ted had some 'splainin' to do.
At this point, a decent PR team would have had him apologize, then told him to keep his mouth shut for a few weeks to ride out the bad press. It would have been a blip, sure, but if he had stayed quiet, it probably would have dissolved pretty quickly. Things like this live forever on the internet, but actual human beings tend to have a pretty short memory.
And here's where it gets interesting.
In one (media) interview, with (media personality) Sean Hannity, which aired on (media outlet) Fox News, Ted Cruz blamed the bad press he's receiving on (wait for it).... THE MEDIA. And Donald Trump, for some reason. Because [checks notes] the media is suffering from Donald Trump withdrawals, and must, therefore, attack the next best thing: Senator Rafael Edward Cruz.
Do he and his PR team not realize what a blistering self-own this is?
Loosely translated, the idea they're floating around, here, is that Cruz is the victim of the media not having Donald Trump around to keep them busy anymore. "The bad orange man went away, so now they're after me."
This is not the defense you think it is.
First of all, if you're going to blame the media for the fact that you got sooooo incredibly, irrefutably busted, you don't get to use the media to spread that message. Second, if you want to repair your public image, maybe don't cast yourself as the understudy for guy who just got impeached for inciting a deadly insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Donald Trump ain't exactly swimming in 5-star reviews right now, is what I'm saying. It's kinda like saying the Zodiac killer story is only getting attention because that Manson guy got caught already. (By the way, I am not suggesting that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer. Although he, himself, seems to admit that it's a possibility.)
So, it's possible that his public relations people are completely asleep at the wheel, and have absolutely no idea how not great it is to compare oneself to the literal worst president the country has ever elected. I mean, it's Comms 101 to pay attention to what people are saying about the other big players in your circle, but maybe they don't understand how hasthags work...?
Or, perhaps these people are frantically trying to conduct damage control over an unruly, uncooperative man-child who will do approximately 3% of the things he's supposed to do to fix this, and ignore everything else. In which case, these people are not getting paid nearly enough.
Or maybe (and this is the scary scenario), these people know exactly what they're doing.
What if there is an entire team of paid public relations professionals who think Ted Cruz' best shot at the White House is to lean into being just as loathsome as Donald J. Trump?
Think about it.
Trump won, not because of his potential for good, but because he was so incredibly talented at pissing people off. He was (and is) beyond shame. His unapologetic nature, at least in 2016, was considered a character strength by some of his die-hard fans. He was supposed to be unconventional if he was going to drain the swamp! How do you shake things up without first making people mad? Unrepentant. Unyielding. Deplorable, sure. But they're all crooks, right? What makes Donald Trump worse than any of the others?
Do you see where I'm going with this?
Could all of this be part of a much bigger strategy to groom Ted Cruz as the next far-right messiah? I'm not saying that I think Donald Trump is completely out of the running for 2024 yet. Mitt Romney even thinks Trump could still win the Republican nomination, so clearly– the Republican party has some stuff to figure out.
But if you're a would-be Republican nominee for the presidency, and the last guy went a lot further than anyone expected by being kind of an a-hole, well...
I'm just saying, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume that "Ted Cruz as a pseudo-Trump" could be an intentional PR decision.
I should point out that I didn't actually finish my communications degree. And I don't have any firsthand knowledge of any of this, so everything I write here is a) total conjecture, b) just my opinion, and c) probably a result of too much coffee, Twitter, and Scandal. (P.S. I love you, Kerry Washington.)
And to his credit, Senator Cruz did refer to the Cancun trip as "a mistake" in one interview. I'll give him that much, because honestly: I didn't think we'd even get that much out of him.
But do I think Ted Cruz is canceled just because he tried to escape his homeland in search of a better life? [insert jokes about the border wall here]
No. No, I do not.
In fact, I would argue that when it comes to the 2024 race, he's one you need to keep your eye on.
P.S. Here's where you can buy a commemorative "Ted Cruz Goes To Cancun" pinata. You're welcome.