First out of the gate for 2016, where does Ted Cruz go now?
GWEN IFILL: The field is crowded with those who say they maybe, sort of, might run for president. But Senator Ted Cruz made it official today in an appearance at Liberty University, a Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Texas Republican became the first candidate to announce a bid in 2016.
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) Texas: I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is why, today, I'm announcing that I'm running for the president of the United States.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
GWEN IFILL: With Cruz all in, it's the perfect day for our Monday check-in on all things politics.
Tonight, we turn to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, and Susan Page of USA Today.
Amy, besides being a first-term senator and has been in Washington three years, engineered a government shutdown along the way, that's all most people know about Ted Cruz. Who is he?
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Yes.
Well, he was not only just a first-term senator, but he was in that first wave of Tea Party senators. He got to Washington in the way that many in the class of 2010 — and he came in '12 — by knocking off establishment figures. He wasn't supposed to win his race. He was up against a lieutenant governor in Texas. He took him to a runoff, won that runoff. Here he is in Washington.
He's known as a conservative crusader, a guy who takes on a lot of quixotic challenges, hasn't won many of them. But that's really his calling card. Before that, he was the solicitor general in Texas. He's been very politically active. He was active in Bush 41 — I'm sorry — Bush 43 campaign. So he has been around the block in politics both in Texas, even though he's new as a senator.
GWEN IFILL: I remember I think it was the 2012 Republican Convention, when Ted Cruz walked in, there was a wave of excitement about his arrival on the scene.
And it seemed like I turned around and thought, what am I missing? So it seemed like there was a moment when he exploded.
SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Well, he's not a guy who has waited his turn. He didn't do that in Texas. There was a guy who was supposed to be the Republican Senate candidate, David Dewhurst. He took that away from him. And he got to Washington and did the same thing, right?
He doesn't seem to care very much if he annoys Republican elders with his tactics. He cares about some things very strongly. He goes his own way. He's more of an agitator than a legislator. And we will see how that works in a presidential campaign.
GWEN IFILL: It was a long speech he gave today in Lynchburg. Did he say at any point why he's running?
AMY WALTER: Well, he's running, he says, to bring back the promise of America.
And, basically the theory goes like this. Republicans are losing and they have lost the last two presidential elections, not because they didn't attract enough people in the middle, but because they didn't get enough conservatives to turn out. He talked about the fact that evangelical conservatives haven't turned out, in part because they don't have anybody that they can really look to.
He didn't give any specifics about how he's going to turn those folks out, but we do know from his past experience that what he is going to do is charge very hard right on social and cultural issues, on financial, fiscal issues, and also on foreign affairs. And that's what he's going to do throughout the campaign.
GWEN IFILL: Was it significant that he did this on a college campus?
SUSAN PAGE: I think it was significant he did it on this college campus, the world's largest Christian university. That's what Liberty University says on its Web site.
It's founded by Jerry Falwell, the evangelical leader. Ted Cruz has solid support among Tea Party Republicans, no question about that. I think he's looking to broaden that support to include more Christian conservatives, voters who might also be thinking about voting for Mike Huckabee or for Rick Santorum. If he can put those two strands of the Republican Party together, he's much further along the path of being able to be a very credible contender.
GWEN IFILL: Does it seem like a lot of people are competing for those same voters?
AMY WALTER: And that's exactly his problem.
What he think is going to happen is, he's going to be the conservative anti-establishment candidate up against the establishment candidate, who many of us think is going to be Jeb Bush. Right? The problem is that anti-establishment slot is full of a lot of folks. Susan mentioned some of them, the Mike Huckabee and the Rick Santorum. You also have Scott Walker.
You also have Marco Rubio, who came in as a Tea Party candidate. So did Rand Paul.
GWEN IFILL: Ben Carson.
AMY WALTER: Ben Carson. You have got a whole lot of folks that he's competing with.
And his challenge with somebody like Scott Walker, who he really does see as his biggest competition right now for that slot of the anti-establishment, is that Scott Walker's appeal to Republicans is that he's been a bold conservative and he's found success in a blue state. Ted Cruz has put up a lot of fights, but he hasn't had any wins.
GWEN IFILL: Who's next in line out of the box?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, we think Rand Paul will be the next one out in about two weeks. And we think Marco Rubio will be soon after him.
We actually think Hillary Clinton might be the next one out. But I do think that this announcement today is a kind of starting gun that they all hear and it probably propels some of them to think it's about time to get into this race, because now there will be some attention. We're talking about Ted Cruz tonight. That's much to Ted Cruz's benefit. He's been a little overshadowed.
GWEN IFILL: Is that the whole point for being first?
SUSAN PAGE: That was the whole point for being first, and also for not doing this, I'm going to test the waters thing, which is…
GWEN IFILL: He never did that. He skipped right over the exploratory…
SUSAN PAGE: He says, I'm running, I'm in. So, I think that puts a little pressure on the other contenders. It's a very large field on the Republican side who want to run for this nomination.
GWEN IFILL: And do they all think that they're running against Jeb Bush at this point, the Republicans?
AMY WALTER: Many people who are not named Jeb Bush, yes, because it's going to be a two-person race between the anti and then the Jeb — the Jeb Bush.
GWEN IFILL: OK, let's go to the Democrats. Remember them?
AMY WALTER: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: They're still out there. And there is some discussion. You mentioned Hillary Clinton — about whether she really has this thing to herself or whether there is any kind of unhappiness beginning to bubble to the surface on the Democratic side of things.
SUSAN PAGE: Well, certainly, there are some progressive leaders who want someone else in the race, who don't really trust Hillary Clinton, who think she's too much of a Wall Street Democrat, who are very much behind Elizabeth Warren.
The trouble is, Elizabeth Warren doesn't seem to be persuaded this is a good thing for her to do. And the other thing we should remember is, there are really no signs for Hillary Clinton when you look at Democratic voters. Her support is quite remarkable.
And so I'm of the opinion that the only person who can take this nomination away from Hillary Clinton would be Hillary Clinton, either by choice or by some fantastic error. I think she seems to be the strongest non-incumbent contender for the presidential race that we have seen in at least 50 years.
AMY WALTER: Yes, and I think that's exactly right. There seems to be a narrative building. And I think a lot of it is, quite frankly, a press corps and others who would like to see something exciting happen on the Democratic side.
SUSAN PAGE: Not that there's anything wrong with that.
AMY WALTER: There's nothing wrong with having some excitement on the Democratic side. We want a race.
The problem is, the voters don't seem to want to race. Look at any data point of Democratic primary voters. They are very happy with Hillary Clinton. And 75 percent of them say they think Hillary Clinton represents change. Now, Republican voters don't think that about Jeb Bush.
This is a woman who's set up very well. However, however, she shouldn't want to go without a primary. She should want the challenge. And she should want to have to prove that she's a strong campaigner.
GWEN IFILL: Practical question. We see that the Bush family is starting to show up and raise money for Jeb, even though, as we pointed out, he's doing the exploratory thing.
Does this mean that it's just — that exploratory or formal announcement is a distinction without difference, that the money, it's going to get raised?
SUSAN PAGE: Yes, completely.
I think these candidates who are exploring, they've decided to run. This task is too hard, it's too grueling and it's too important to like really test the waters. It's just a matter of waiting until you find the right moment for you to announce it.
And here's the question I have. The participation of the Bush family for Jeb Bush, is that really a plus for him? Because his biggest problem, it seems to me, is people saying, wow, another Bush.
GWEN IFILL: Or another Clinton. We will be watching to see whether that's the issue.
Susan Page of USA Today, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, thanks.
AMY WALTER: Thanks, Gwen.
SUSAN PAGE: Thank you.