Everyone needs a vacation. I need about five of them right now. But when you are charged with the people’s business — as politicians are — and crisis strikes, ideally, you should let your job take precedence.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is the latest to do ... not that. News broke Wednesday night that someone bearing a striking resemblance to Cruz had headed to Cancun, Mexico, even as his state was dealing with a particularly arduous situation: Snow and historically cold temperatures had compromised Texas’s power grid and water system and left many to fend for themselves.

We later found out it was indeed Cruz, who has now returned amid the backlash. Cruz has said he was there to chaperone his daughters, though his office initially declined for many hours to confirm the trip and didn’t say whether he had planned to stay for longer.

It bears noting, as Cruz’s defenders have argued, that he is not a governor or a state official. His main job is to vote on legislation at the federal level. To the extent Congress sends emergency aid to his home state, he’ll have a role to play in that. (President Biden has declared an emergency in Texas and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide generators.) There is, though, a constituent services aspect to his job, and the vast majority of his millions of constituents have been affected by this storm.

And of course, there are the terrible optics. A high-ranking official skipping town amid a potentially catastrophic situation, no matter what they could do to deal with it, isn’t a great look — as Cruz’s return has now acknowledged.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) flew to Cancun with his family while his home state of Texas grappled with a deadly deep freeze. (Reuters)

Cruz is hardly the first politician to fall into this trap, though. In recent decades, many politicians have been criticized for heading out of town while their constituents suffered. Here are a few examples.

Chris Christie

Perhaps the most recent high-profile example was the then-New Jersey governor (R). He proceeded with a planned family trip to Disney World in 2010 despite a looming snowstorm that eventually dumped two feet of snow on the state.

“It’s a big snow, definitely, but the world is not coming to an end,” a Christie spokesman told the Star-Ledger. “We are a northeastern state, and we get snow — sometimes lots of it like this — and we will get through it just as we always do.”

Making matters worse: Christie’s lieutenant governor was already out of town, in Mexico.

Then, in 2017, Christie made use of a state-owned beach house even as many of the state’s beaches were closed due to a government shutdown.

Christie maintained at the time that he “didn’t get any sun today,” but when photos emerged of him on the beach, a spokesman rather unhelpfully stuck to the party line. “He did not get any sun,” the spokesman told the Star-Ledger, maintaining Christie had been there only briefly. “He had a baseball hat on.”

Cruz even responded to criticism from Christie later that year by saying the former governor should “go back to the beach.”

Marion Barry

When such situations arise, one of the most popular throwbacks is then-Washington Mayor Marion Barry (D) in 1987. He visited Southern California for the Super Bowl, arriving shortly before the city was pummeled by a rare snowstorm.

While Barry was already there when the storm struck, it’s his conduct afterward that rubbed many the wrong way. As Washington City Paper recounted:

After learning of the snowstorm, Barry chose to stay in California. After learning D.C. was about to be hit by a second, even bigger storm, some thought he might finally decide to return early and take the helm. But he instead stayed for the Super Bowl itself, 24 years ago today.
He stayed after the Super Bowl as well, to play tennis and get a manicure, before collapsing and being rushed to the hospital. As Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood recorded in their 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, DC:
The day after the game Barry was in Oak View Park partying and playing poker with friends… that evening, after drinking several bottles of champagne and a quart of cognac, Barry and two women friends disappeared into a bedroom and closed the door. When the two women left the townhouse, Barry slumped to a sofa, head thrown back. His nose ran, and he made low grunting noises. The mayor clutched his chest and said he was having trouble breathing…. At Daniel Freedman Hospital Barry was given oxygen and immediately began to feel better. He told the hospital that blood tests and other exams weren’t necessary, and he was released.
The District ultimately got hit with 26 inches of snow.

George H.W. Bush

When it comes to vacations during a crisis, it’s best to take them when you’re popular — preferably, very popular. Such is the case with George H.W. Bush.

As conflict in the Persian Gulf intensified in 1990, the president continued with a vacation to the family haven of Kennebunkport, Maine. But while polls showed 8 in 10 Americans approved of Bush at the time, they were much more evenly split on the vacation; 51 percent approved of him working out of his summer home there, while 43 percent said it was inappropriate, according to a Boston Globe poll.

White House officials insisted that, for three weeks, the Middle East could be as effectively managed from President Bush’s holiday home in Kennebunkport, Maine, as from the White House.
After an exhausting period, the 65-year-old Mr Bush and his senior aides needed a break, they said. But, while certainly seeking a spot of recreation, Mr. Bush was also trying to avoid the “Rose Garden syndrome,” sources familiar with White House thinking said yesterday as the President headed north.

Ray Nagin

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Bush’s son, President George W. Bush, wasn’t the only one who came in for criticism. A couple of weeks later, Mayor Ray Nagin (D) left he city and headed for Dallas, where his family leased a house. It wasn’t a vacation, per se, but it was getting out of town amid an unmitigated disaster.

As Douglas Brinkley reported in a 2006 book excerpted for Vanity Fair:

During that period, Nagin left New Orleans. He went to Dallas. He leased a house. “Why,” Nagin wondered, “would a governor of the state of Louisiana be ticked about that? I don’t get that. I mean, I took care of my city as best I could. I got it organized. I got rescues. I got just about everybody out. I didn’t leave until that last bus left New Orleans. … Then I went to take care of my family. Why does that upset somebody?”
In N.O.P.D. circles, Nagin’s handle over the police radio had been “New Orleans One.” Now, furious that Nagin had abandoned them—and had secured a home while New Orleans was underwater—some in the police force dubbed him “Dallas One.” A few officers even made “Dallas One” signs as a protest, posting them around the makeshift Sixth District headquarters at the Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street. “I pulled the signs down,” police superintendent Eddie Compass recalled. “I told the guys it just wasn’t good for the city.”

Barack Obama

This cropped up on multiple occasions during Obama’s presidency — with the criticism being driven by his GOP opponents.

As The Washington Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb reported in 2014 amid heightened racial tensions following a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo.:

All year long, he has faced criticism, usually from conservatives, for taking leisure time in the face of crisis. He drank beer and played billiards with the governor of Colorado while dismissing calls to visit children detained at the border. He enjoyed a golfing weekend in California as the Iraqi city of Mosul fell to the terrorist group known as the Islamic State. He opted to continue with a previously planned vacation in Key West, Fla., as Russia annexed Crimea.
Now, he is vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard as crises in Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq and Syria all crest anew — and a St. Louis suburb is rocked by violent clashes between police and protesters.

The same was true of Obama in 2016 golfing at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., as Louisiana suffered historic flooding, when he declined to cut the vacation short and was criticized by a local editorial board. Upon visiting the state, he dismissed the criticism, suggesting it had no impact on the recovery effort.

Austin’s mayor

The last one hits a little closer to home for Cruz. Back in December, as many politicians were pleading with their constituents to stay home because of the pandemic, one of them headed to Mexico. In fact, the politician made just such a plea … while in Mexico.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D) took a private jet to Cabo San Lucas to vacation after a small wedding for his daughter. He maintained none of it broke his own rules about coronavirus precautions, but many Republicans suggested a double standard was at work.

One of them was Cruz.

The situations aren’t totally analogous. Cruz has been a critic of harsh coronavirus mitigation measures, so it would make sense that he would attack a politician who called for them while skipping town.

But the idea was that politicians should be in the fight with their constituents. Two months later, like Adler, Cruz headed south of the border amid another crisis.