I am feeling extremely lucky today that the floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey did not claim my brother’s house in Sugar Land, Texas. After creeping up his sidewalk and driveway, the water finally stopped rising as the rain slackened and stopped. Hours of anxiety gave way to deep relief as the flood began to recede. Sadly, many thousands did not share my family’s luck. In the Houston metro area, countless homes have been lost, and it may be weeks before we can begin to get a complete look at the damage.
Hurricane Harvey has set ominous new records for the continental United States regarding rain, flooding, and general devastation. In the political arena, Harvey will be used by liberals as the tragic icon of global warming and man-made climate change. Democrats argue that it is not natural for Houston to receive three 500-year floods in three years, and that the extreme weather is proof that our climate has definitely changed. Republicans, as expected, will hem and haw that the science is still undecided.
While Harvey will be the crown jewel of the U.S. climate change debate for years to come, its aftermath will also herald a much sharper political battle: Financial aid. In the aftermath of any major disaster, we now look to the highest levels of government to assist in fixing the damage and helping citizens who have lost everything. In 2005, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina provoked intense scrutiny and debate over how Washington reacted to far away devastation.
Then, as now, many citizens and politicians wondered how much money was appropriate to spend to rebuild a city in a flood-prone area. Was it wise to rebuild New Orleans?
As Texas looks to rebuild, you can bet that folks in Louisiana will remember which Texans supported their request for aid after Hurricane Katrina and which ones did not. In more recent memory, however, is Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Northeast in 2012. Many of the political players who debated post-Sandy aid are still in Washington, and they’ve got a bone to pick. Specifically, they’re getting a chance to stick it to Texas’ more outspoken U.S. Senator, the ultraconservative Ted Cruz.
Even Republicans are calling out the unsuccessful 2016 presidential contender for his vote opposing a federal aid package for the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy. Cruz opposed the aid for New York and New Jersey on the grounds that the legislation contained too much “pork,” or unrelated spending. At the time, the rookie Senator was probably trying to prove his small-government bona fides, though he was joined by most of Texas’ delegation in Congress. However, as the loudmouth of the bunch, Cruz now finds himself on the receiving end of Twitter barbs and interview bashes, especially from New Jersey governor Chris Christie and U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY).
Cruz being criticized by fellow Republicans is nothing new, but this week’s salvo could actually lead to his undoing. The Tea Party legislator is up for re-election in 2018, and he actually has a dynamic opponent waiting in the form of U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX). Although any Democrat is an extreme long shot to win a statewide seat, none of which have been held by Dems since the early 2000s, Hurricane Harvey may prove to be the perfect storm that topples Ted Cruz.
First of all, Cruz is already rather weakened by his disappointing performance in the 2016 presidential election. While it may not hurt him today, those undignified memes and Trumpian barbs will return in 2018, to be used by both Democratic and Republican opponents alike. If you thought Cruz wouldn’t have competition for the 2018 GOP Senate primary, you would be mistaken. His upset loss to Trump in the presidential primary, coupled with his inability to distinguish himself in Washington, makes him vulnerable to a centrist Republican rival.
The vote against Sandy aid will come back to bite as well. You can bet your bottom dollar that Beto O’Rourke will be in Houston and talking about how Cruz’s ill-considered 2012 vote now jeopardizes Texas’ ability to secure Hurricane Harvey financial aid. “Ted Cruz put politics before people, and now Texans may pay the price,” O’Rourke could say to the television cameras, to great effect. In a sound-bite world, Cruz’ opposition to Hurricane Sandy aid is now his kryptonite.
Houston needing federal assistance to recover from Harvey may also help Democrats in general, with many centrist voters reconsidering their knee-jerk opposition to “liberal big government.” In the aftermath of a natural disaster, Democrats’ pro-unity rhetoric is bound to play better than Republicans’ pro-freedom spiel. Small government conservatism may play well when you have a job the sky is blue, but you’re likely to become downright Democratic socialist when your house is flooded and your employer has decided to relocate to a drier region.
It might be a cold, hard rain for Ted Cruz in 2018 unless he is able to help secure Texas a good federal aid package, which will require him to swallow his pride and admit he was wrong to vote against Hurricane Sandy assistance for the Northeast.