ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Chris Christie is joining a crowded race.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BOBBY JINDAL: My name is Bobby Jindal.
CARLY FIORINA: I'm Carly Fiorina.
BEN CARSON: Now I've introduced my family you say, well, who are you?
GEORGE PATAKI: My brother's an astrophysicist...
MIKE HUCKABEE: So it seems perfectly fitting...
RAND PAUL: I announce with God's help.
MARCO RUBIO: Grounded by the lessons of our history...
TED CRUZ: Rising up...
RICK PERRY: To get our economy going again...
RICK SANTORUM: To stand here among you...
LINDSEY GRAHAM: So get ready. I'm ready.
DONALD TRUMP: I am officially running for...
JEB BUSH: President of the United States of America.
SIEGEL: That was - in order - Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, George Pataki, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. Add Chris Christie and it makes 14 Republican presidential candidates, a field bursting at the seams. And NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to make sense of it. Good to see you.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good to be here.
SIEGEL: What sense do you make of all these candidates from the same party?
LIASSON: Well, it's not easy to make sense of it. This is the biggest Republican field since 1952, which is when the modern primary system began, and they don't fall into neat categories. Each one of them is selling something specific. As you just heard, Chris Christie is selling his leadership style, his tell it like it is political persona. Bobby Jindal is selling his policy wonkiness. He has a lot of specific positions. Ted Cruz describes himself as the courageous conservative. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson are all appealing to the evangelicals in the party. Rand Paul is running an anti-establishment candidacy. He says he can bring in libertarian-leaning young people. Marco Rubio is the fresh young face. Jeb Bush is the grown-up, experienced. And then there's Donald Trump.
SIEGEL: And with so many, does any one candidate stand out? Is there a favorite here? Is Jeb Bush a front-runner?
LIASSON: Well, there isn't a clear front-runner yet. There is a top-tier and three candidates have consistently polled in the double digits. And that top-tier is Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. The rest of the candidates are jumbled together in the single digits, some of them barely moving the needle. The two candidates who announced this week - Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie - in addition to having underwater approval ratings in their home states, are at 4 percent for Christie and 1 percent in the Republican primary polls.
SIEGEL: Now, it's Chris Christie's launch day, but today, Jeb Bush actually stole some of the spotlight. He released decades' worth of tax returns.
LIASSON: He did. He released 33 years of tax returns and, as his campaign is boasting, that is the most any candidate has ever released. And that is Bush's message. Unlike Hillary Clinton, he's open and transparent. He has nothing to hide. He released not just his tax returns but his emails as the governor of Florida, although he also got to decide which emails to release. And he takes questions at every campaign stop. Another part of his message with the tax returns is he's not Mitt Romney, who, as you remember, would not release anything more than one year. And according to the Bush campaign, he's paid an average effective tax rate at 36 percent, which would put him out of political danger on this issue if it's true.
SIEGEL: Mara, how are they going to fit all of these Republican presidential candidates on the stage together for a debate?
LIASSON: Good question. The TV networks are scratching their heads to figure that out. The first debate, which is a Fox debate on August 6 in Cleveland, they've decided only the top 10 candidates in the national polls will be on the stage. The rest of them will appear in something called a candidate's forum, something like the children's table at Thanksgiving dinner. And that means for people like Christie or Jindal need to get their numbers up so they're not edged out by the likes of Donald Trump.
SIEGEL: So is a field of 14 enough? Is this it?
LIASSON: Absolutely not.
LIASSON: There's still two more - Scott Walker and John Kasich. Next month, they will announce. Walker is the governor of Wisconsin. He's a hero to conservatives. He took on the public sector unions, but he staked out a very conservative position on social issues. He's calling for an amendment to make gay marriage up to the states. We don't know how well that will play outside of Iowa and South Carolina. John Kasich, who's the governor of Ohio, he's associated with two programs the Republican base hates - Common Core and the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. But he is a very popular governor from Ohio, which is an extremely important state electorally for the GOP, and many Republicans are dreaming of a Florida-Ohio ticket as the strongest they can get.
SIEGEL: But, you know, Mara, when you mention Kasich's positions on Common Core and Medicaid expansion, that seems to be the rare instance of some breadth within this field, of some real substantive differences among the candidates.
LIASSON: Yes, so there some - there are lots of differences...
SIEGEL: Are there?
LIASSON: ...Among the candidates. The problem is that the Republican base hates Common Core. It certainly hates Obamacare. But candidates like Kasich and Jeb Bush, who also is for common care and for immigration reform...
SIEGEL: Common Core, yeah.
LIASSON: ...Will be pushing against the base to some extent.
SIEGEL: OK, thank you, Mara. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.