This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," December 10, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," with under a month to go to until Iowa, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney battle for frontrunner status. Is the race set at the top or can another candidate break through?
Plus, President Obama channels his inner Teddy Roosevelt and lays out his 2012 campaign strategy. Will it work?
And a showdown looms over the payroll tax cuts. Could Republicans blink?
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
With less than a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney battle this week for frontrunner status while some second- tier candidates took to the airwaves to try to knock them both down a peg or too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD NARRATOR: And we don't want government mandated health care, yet, Newt Gingrich supported it and Mitt Romney. It put it into law in Massachusetts. And worse, Barack Obama forced it on the entire nation. Rick Perry? He'll repeal it starting day one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything that Gingrich railed against when he was in the House, he went the other way he when he got paid to go the other way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's demonstrating himself to be the very essence of the Washington insider.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about serial hypocrisy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: So will voters give other GOP candidates a second look, and should they?
Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.
Dorothy, let's talk about Ron Paul. He's a solid third in Iowa. Could he break if he does well in that state?
DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I don't think so and I don't think he's doing that well in that state. And the reason is, is I think that people may perceive a certain odiousness about his foreign policy views.
RABINOWITZ: He's an isolationist. A very long -- but his is a particularly repellent sort. We won't go into that now. And he's also given aid and comfort to the enemy. People see this. And I think that is one of the strong --
GIGOT: That's a cap on his potential support?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think that if you add together the isolationist -- they do exist in the Republican Party -- and the protest vote against the candidate that are up there running, Ron Paul gets 10 percent, but I think that Paul topped out at 10 percent.
GIGOT: Rick Perry, James, came in, Texas record, good strong jobs record. Tried to make that a theme, hasn't really caught on, why not?
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: The theme is good. Obviously, the debate performance is weak. The dramatic pause, forgetting which cabinets he wanted to close, even though he ought to close all of them, once he can remember them. But I think he needs to stick to that record because that meets the moment. It is an amazing record from Texas. And he now has a very competitive tax plan, optional flat tax of 20 percent, slashes corporate rates. And I think that Texas economic story, if he can tell it, is a good one.
GIGOT: And Michele Bachmann, Dorothy, she was once the star. She was a shooting star at least for a time and now back down, and can't seem to get back into the front tier.
RABINOWITZ: Yes, that's because of her overexposure and people, as they see her more and more, keep saying, can this be the president of the United States, and they say no. One reason is a continuous harping, I was born in Iowa. There's a sense of a lack of breadth, a lack of depth, a lack of education, despite her hard comments on issues. And there is a kind of mystique. There is nothing in there that says president.
GIGOT: interesting. You know, you've got Rick Santorum, also, who is --
GIGOT: -- has a respectable record, two-term Senator in Pennsylvania, very knowledgeable on foreign policy. Yet, he's been focusing most of his attention on the social conservatives in Iowa and trying to press the values issues, yet, he hasn't really gone anywhere there.
HENNINGER: Yes, and I think, Rick Santorum seems strategically disorganized, in the sense that, what is this campaign about primarily? It's about the poor state of the American economy. If you're going to run for president now, you have to be able to talk in some depth about the economy. And he has never really done that in these debates, choosing, instead, to say, to run on social issues or foreign policy issues that may not be exactly germane to what we're arguing about.
GIGOT: James, our colleague, Kim Strassel, made the case this week that even social conservatives in Iowa, for them, like everyone else in America, the economy is the major issue. Unless you keep pushing that theme you're not going to get the traction you might have in previous years.
FREEMAN: And they know all the candidates in the Republican field are better than the president on social issues.
But I think, getting back to Santorum, I think he's one of those guys better where he's better than you've seen in the debates. For example, he's occasionally talked about his manufacturing tax cut and people who don't work in manufacturing might say, well, what good is that? But the truth is that his plan actually cuts taxes for everybody and for all businesses. So he's a guy -- he's got a background of pressing economic freedom in the House and Senate.
RABINOWITZ: But if you talk about partial birth abortion almost exclusively, which he has been doing in Iowa, you're showing a deadly tone deafness, which means instance political death.
HENNINGER: but, Paul, if what we're saying is true, why isn't Jon Huntsman doing better? Because Jon Huntsman probably has the strongest economic plan of all the candidates up there on taxes and the rest of it.
GIGOT: Too big to fail.
HENNINGER: Too big to fail.
HENNINGER: He did excellent on those things.