Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) kicked off his 2016 presidential campaign in auspicious fashion Monday by announcing his bid at religious wingnut Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and promptly having TedCruz.com hijacked by supporters of President Obama's immigration reform. At Monday's White House daily briefing, reporters tried gamely to get Press Secretary Josh Earnest to weigh in on Cruz's candidacy, as Earnest tried just as hard not to get in Cruz's way.
White House reporters are nothing if not resourceful, so they went at the Cruz question in a variety of ways. First up was the Associated Press' Josh Lederman, who tried to get Earnest to weigh on Cruz's promise to "repeal every word of Obamacare," and was rewarded with some boilerplate about the "robust debate" to come:
American Urban Radio Network's April Ryan, though, managed to open up the jar that Lederman loosened by noting the irony (or perhaps stagecraft) of the first official Republican candidacy of 2016 kicking off on the 5th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Earnest had one brief observation to make about that:
"Well, there was a presidential candidate who ran in 2012 promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and that campaign pledge didn't work out very well for him."
Maybe this explains the burning sensation Cruz keeps going on about.
When ABC News' Jim Avila tried to get Earnest to weigh in on Cruz's notion to abolish the IRS, it was back to the high road, but again, Earnest couldn't resist foreshadowing the campaign to come, essentially telling Avila that for now, this White House is content to give Republicans all the rope they want:
"At some point, we'll reach a point where I'll be a little bit more willing to engage, but at this point, I'm going to let them... have their day."
Finally, NBC News' Chris Jansing approached Cruz by asking Earnest to weigh in on Gov. Jerry Brown's (D-CA) assessment of Cruz as "absolutely unfit" to run for office by virtue of his views on climate change. This time, Earnest opted for more generalized boilerplate about the importance of acting on climate change:
"I'll just say, as a general matter, that the President certainly believes that dealing with the causes of climate change is an urgent matter, and one which the United States has the lead on the international community o so many priorities."
It's somewhat revealing that Earnest chose to lean into the Obamacare question, but not the IRS or climate change issues. While the Affordable Care Act continues to have a complicated relationship with the public, the White House seems to be making the (correct) judgment that repealing it will be bad politics for Republicans. There are too many people benefiting from it, and too many people who know those people.
So far, though, climate change, or rather refusing to do anything at all about climate change, hasn't proven to be politically toxic, despite the dire consequences. As the campaign reaches the point at which the White House really opens up on these issues, it will be interesting to see if they can make it politically toxic to ignore climate change, or if they'll even try.