This may seem silly and desperate, but it’s worth pausing over because it illustrates a deeper intellectual habit that post-Trump Republicans are increasingly falling back upon, one that is likely to get more widespread.
We’re talking here about the relentless instinct to portray Trump as a victim, not just as misdirection, but also as a catchall justification. And this reaches far beyond Cruz’s Cancún excursion. It’s the through line to something of far greater consequence: the GOP escalation of voter suppression and counter-majoritarian tactics in states across the country.
On Monday night, Cruz went on Sean Hannity’s show — a laboratory where pro-Trump propaganda gets manufactured for the GOP base’s consumption in its most unalloyed and poisonous form — and ridiculed the media’s obsession with the Cancún trip.
“The media is suffering from Trump withdrawal, where they’ve attacked Trump every day for four years, they don’t know what to do,” Cruz said. “So they obsess over my taking my girls to the beach.”
This smuggles Trump into the discussion, not just as misdirection, but also as a way to win the sympathy of an audience that can be counted on to believe Trump was unfairly victimized by the media for four years. Cruz and Trump are linked in their victimhood at the hands of the media, which is automatically exonerating.
In truth, this shows extraordinary contempt for Hannity’s viewers. Elsewhere, Hannity claims Cruz merely “dropped off” his daughters and “came home in a day.” But as Erik Wemple details, Hannity keeps repeating this spin even though Cruz himself has admitted the original plan was to stay longer.
Essentially, the pull in this disinformation vortex is so powerful that little to no self-incrimination of any kind can survive, just as light cannot escape a black hole. The incentives pull inexorably not just toward the absolute denial of any wrongdoing, but also toward converting one’s media travails into a symbol of Trump’s victimization.
In Foxlandia, nothing but fictions
As an aside, note that these incentives also pull toward more substantive distortions. On “Hannity,” Cruz claimed a “major” reason for the Texas disaster was the “Green New Deal,” which is an absurd distortion: While wind turbines did get debilitated by the cold, so did other sources, and wind represents only a small fraction of Texas energy generation.
Notably, even the Republican governor of Texas has admitted that other power sources were to blame. Yet the pull toward taking refuge in this fictional universe is just too powerful to resist.
Indeed, Cruz even suggested on “Hannity” that Texas’s low energy prices show the superiority of conservative governance. But Cruz then said steps must be taken to ensure the grid never fails again, while also insisting that this must be done while keeping those prices low.
Yet as Paul Krugman notes, the low prices result from the deregulation itself, which doesn’t prod companies to pursue incentives to safeguard against failure. So it’s not clear how you’d build in those protections while keeping prices low under that deregulatory regime, which shows that this saga actually reveals the downside of the trade-offs at the core of such conservative governance.
But on “Hannity,” this disconnect sails past, unaddressed. Amid this wholesale retreat into a fictional right-wing universe — a place you might call “Foxlandia” — it can instead simply be asserted that leftist economics are to blame.
The re-centering of Trump as chief victim
More broadly, we’re also seeing a re-centering of Trump as the primary victim in U.S. public life in other areas. Republican officials have launched efforts to make voting harder across the country, which they are justifying in part by claiming they will restore confidence in our elections among people who believe the election was stolen from Trump.
In short, the falsehood that the election constituted a hideous injustice done to Trump, and the fact that a lot of Republican voters believe it to be true, is becoming the rationale for more voter suppression and redoubled counter-majoritarian tactics — even though Trump and Republicans themselves spent months feeding this lie to them.
On top of that, Republican lawmakers who held Trump accountable for inciting the violent insurrection are getting censured everywhere, mainly by other Republicans who are demanding absolute fealty to the mythology that Trump remains the victim of that monstrous injustice.
It’s true that Trump’s exit creates a dilemma for the media. But it’s not the one Cruz has identified. It’s whether the media should continue giving a platform to Republicans who continue to traffic in the constellation of fictions that are organized around this central myth of Trump victimization.
As Sean Illing reports, some theorists have shown that merely allowing rank disinformation to seep into the media discussion actually undermines the possibility of consensus, allowing its purveyors to exploit the good-faith instinct toward openness to a full range of ideas toward unprincipled ends.
Press critic Jay Rosen has suggested that the media must seek to “decenter” Trump. If so, it may require the marginalization of that broader victimization mythology as well.