JUDY WOODRUFF: We have talked about it for months. Now we are here, 2016.
Political director Lisa Desjardins explains how the presidential race has quickly hit another gear.
LISA DESJARDINS: Just try and take it all in. The many candidates are scrambling, as months of buildup are over, and the actual 2016 is here. It means a mounting frenzy of rallies and big-time surrogates.
But today’s biggest move came over the airwaves.
NARRATOR: The politicians can pretend it’s something else.
LISA DESJARDINS: A provocative new Donald Trump ad stressing security.
NARRATOR: That’s why he’s calling for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until we can figure out what’s going on.
LISA DESJARDINS: It’s Trump’s first TV ad of the campaign, and it’s raising the intensity of the race. At the same time, his rivals are revving up their opposition to him.
In New Hampshire today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called Trump’s security promise an empty one.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, Republican Presidential Candidate: These are the most dangerous and perilous times in our country’s recent history. Showtime is over, everybody. We are not electing an entertainer in chief.
LISA DESJARDINS: Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, something new from the Clinton campaign: the first solo appearances from former President Bill Clinton this cycle. He stuck mostly to his wife’s biography.
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I do not believe, in my lifetime, anybody has run for this job at a moment of great importance who was better qualified, by knowledge, experience and temperament to do what needs to be done now.
LISA DESJARDINS: He stayed positive and ignored recent attacks from Donald Trump about his infidelity. The candidate herself, Hillary Clinton, in Iowa, did attack Trump and Republicans.
HILLARY CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate: … negatively to what I hear coming from the other side is because not only are — what they are saying about Muslims, wrong and shameful, it’s dangerous.
LISA DESJARDINS: Her main rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was in New Hampshire. Sanders’ message? That his grassroots campaign has a real shot at wresting the nomination away from Clinton.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, Democratic Presidential Candidate: We can win in Iowa, and we can win in New Hampshire. We have a real path toward victory.
LISA DESJARDINS: And that’s just a taste of the blitz across the early states.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz in Iowa.
SEN. TED CRUZ, Republican Presidential Candidate: Enough is enough and we are going to take our country back.
LISA DESJARDINS: And Florida Senator Marco Rubio in New Hampshire.
As for rival Republican Ben Carson, his move was online. Carson released a new tax plan calling for a flat tax of 14.9 percent on most Americans. But the numbers that may matter most on the trail are dates.
The Iowa caucuses on February 1, and the New Hampshire primary eight days later.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now that it’s 2016, it’s the perfect time for Politics Monday with Tamara Keith and Amy Walter. Both are in New Hampshire, and I spoke with them a short time ago.
Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, 2016 is finally here. You’re both in New Hampshire.
Tamara, let me start with you. And you were with Bill Clinton when he spoke today earlier in New Hampshire. It was thought he might respond to some of what Donald Trump has been talking about lately, but he didn’t.
TAMARA KEITH, NPR: He certainly didn’t. He was there to be the supportive spouse mostly.
He started out talking about news articles that he’s read and maybe made some veiled references to some of Donald Trump’s language on Muslims. But he didn’t go there on some of the other things Donald Trump has been going after him on.
And then he really sang the praises of his wife and told a series of anecdotes about her going back to when they first met in law school. And many of the people in the audience there I talked to afterwards said that they learned new things about Hillary Clinton. So, he was doing the proud husband thing, and not really hitting hard against other candidates.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Amy, the Hillary Clinton campaign views him purely as an asset?
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: I think so.
And I think, listen, he brings right now in a Democratic primary a very good track record. Democratic voters like him. They respond to him, and I think we will see him on the trail much more in the coming months. Again, you can’t have Hillary Clinton everywhere. She has somebody who knows what it’s like to run a presidential campaign going out into all of these early primary state.
Another thing, it’s just — it’s such a striking contrast between what Hillary Clinton can do with her husband former president, and what Jeb Bush can’t do with his brother former president. Bringing him on the road, there has been a lot of talk about that early on, but we haven’t seen it quite yet, and the last name, of course, of Bush more problematic for Jeb in a Republican primary. The Clinton name still gold in a Democratic primary.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Of course, the reason Bill Clinton is there, Tamara, is the fact that Bernie Sanders happens to be running a little bit ahead in the polls. How worried are they about Bernie Sanders? How strong a race is he putting out there?
TAMARA KEITH: He, as you say, is leading in the polls here, has a strong organization here, both in New Hampshire and in Iowa.
He’s working hard in Iowa to build his organization there, because the Clintons can sort of write off New Hampshire. And they keep putting out these lines like, well, you know, he is from a neighboring state, and people don’t tend to lose in their neighboring state of New Hampshire.
So they are definitely setting expectations, though it’s unclear whether they actually think that he could win in New Hampshire or whether they’re just trying to lower the bar.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, the other thing we’re watching today, as we mentioned, is Donald Trump out with his first television ad. The word fear is being associated with it. The Trump campaign has waited until now to put this out. What’s the strategy here?
AMY WALTER: Judy, I always have a hard time understanding the strategy of the Trump campaign. So, I don’t know if it’s strategy, as much as the fact that he is doubling down on what has gotten him so far thus far, which is this idea that he is the strongest and the toughest and the most resolute in the field.
And I think the more that we hear about trouble in the Mideast, the more now that we’re hearing about problems coming from all sectors when it relates to ISIS, et cetera, this just makes Donald Trump look even better in the eyes of many Republican primary voters, who are frustrated, anxious, ready to turn the page.
And this ad just reminds them of what they like in him in the first place. Of course, it also reminds a lot of moderate voters, independent-leaning voters about what they don’t like about Donald Trump. And I think this is always going to be the trouble for Trump, is what works very well in a Republican primary cuts against him among the general electorate.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It is, I think, the understanding of a lot of people that, when you talk about terrorism, Democrats feel that that’s not their strongest issue, that Republicans are just naturally going to be in a better place on that.
TAMARA KEITH: Though Hillary Clinton would say that she is strong on those issues, as a former secretary of state. I think that’s the case that she would certainly make.
To me, what was striking with the Donald Trump ad is the imagery of undocumented immigrants, presumably, grainy footage running across the border. I think that’s what it’s supposed to be. It takes me back to the 1990s in California. And Governor Pete Wilson’s reelection campaign had an ad with similar footage of people flooding over the borders.
And that ad and some other things that he ran on in that campaign ultimately hurt the Republican Party in California in a way that some Republicans are concerned could hurt the national party, with this Trump ad and the language about immigrants, because the demographics are changing in this country.
And appealing to Latino voters and Asian voters is going to be critical, many believe, for the future of the Republican Party in this country.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, the other candidate I want to ask you about is Chris Christie. You are going to be seeing him at an event later today.
He has three events in New Hampshire today. What’s going on with Chris Christie in the Granite State?
AMY WALTER: It’s going to be very interesting to see what Chris Christie does and whether he’s able to coalesce what has at this point been a very fractured primary up here in New Hampshire, Donald Trump leading the pack with about 25 percent of the vote, and then the rest of it is really splintered about.
And Chris Christie wants to be the establishment candidate. Right now, he’s competing for that lane, for that anti-Trump lane, with Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich. He had a speech today right here at Saint Anselm College, where he made the case that, you know what? I understand you’re angry, America. I get it. I’m with you on that. But you need somebody who’s actually been tested. I, he said, have been tested at the executive level. The others haven’t. Anybody can do showmanship. It takes somebody else to have real executive experience.
I think we are going to hear a lot more about that in the days and weeks to come.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the pace has quickened. It is 2016.
AMY WALTER: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re looking at those days on the calendar.
You’re both in New Hampshire. We thank you, Amy Walter, Tamara Keith.