• With: Dorothy Rabinowitz, Dan Henninger, Jason Riley, Steve Moore, Whit Ayres, Richard Land

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," January 21, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: Up next on the "Journal Editorial Report," the first-in-the-south primary topped off the wildest week of the campaign so far.

    And as Palmetto State voters head to the polls, we'll take a closer look at Newt Gingrich's surge, Mitt Romney's tax problems and the breakout moments from this week's debate.

    Plus, a fresh perspective on some key questions, which of the remaining candidates can beat Barack Obama and where will evangelicals throw their support.

    Welcome to this special edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    And we're live this hour as South Carolina voters head to the polls, capping off what can only be described as the wildest week of the campaign so far. The Real Clear Politics poll average began the week with Mitt Romney the clear favorite and ended with Newt Gingrich in the lead. So, what happened in between?

    Let's ask Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz; columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; "Political Diary" editor, Jason Riley; and senior economics writer, Steve Moore.

    So, by my count, the second or third comeback from oblivion by Newt Gingrich. Dorothy, how do you explain it?

    DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: There's the key. It was never oblivion.

    (LAUGHTER)

    The reality is that people always knew who he was. And though he was hit with the polls and he rises in the place that is friendly to them in South Carolina.

    GIGOT: South Carolina. Close, right next to Georgia, his state.

    RABINOWITZ: Next to Georgia. The contrast between him and Mitt Romney and the rest of the candidates is a number-one factor.

    GIGOT: And that contrast in the debates you're talking about, the debate performance.

    RABINOWITZ: In the debates, and in a general sense who he is, who he will represent to the world, the voice in the world. Number two, he arrives at the audience and then there's a change on the media, and he blows everything up in that debate. It's important to remember that that is the audience was prepared to explode before he even said that, yes, fully out of his mouth. They came ready for the explosion. And why? Because the moment that those words got out that Mrs. Gingrich has going to be on that --

    GIGOT: His second ex-wife.

    RABINOWITZ: Second ex-wife.

    GIGOT: Gave the interview "ABC News."

    RABINOWITZ: And they were going to put this out on the air two nights before the election. A general election of what is this? This is unfair.

    GIGOT: Jason?

    JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: Dorothy, I don't know if ultimately this is going to help him. This is something he wanted to put behind him, but it was a reminder he's been married three times. And a sort of distasteful way that he'd gone from one to two to three, and that's not going to help him ultimately, I think particularly with women voters.

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: But, Jason, why is he rising despite that?

    RILEY: I think he's been helped by the fact that Mitt Romney has had an especially bad week. First of all, Mitt Romney found out he actually lost Iowa. But he also -- by all of 34 votes

    (LAUGHTER)

    OK, but he's also had self-inflicted wounds. And you mentioned the tax issue in the opening. He's been very poorly prepared to answer questions he knew was coming. And I think it's hurt Mitt Romney and helped Newt Gingrich.

    GIGOT: Yes, Dan?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Paul -- Dorothy, don't throw that legal pad at me when I say this. But I think that --

    (LAUGHTER)

    HENNINGER: I think Newt is the flavor of the primary, and you know --

    GIGOT: This primary, this primary.

    HENNINGER: This primary. That's right. Just as Santorum, we discovered won Iowa. Look, the -- this is the most volatile Republican electorate I've ever seen. And we know that since all of this progress began in the polls in June, every one of these candidates, including Michele Bachmann, has risen and fallen. And I think, mainly, a factor of how they perform from one primary to the next. Indeed, the Republican electorate is looking for someone to fight Barack Obama.

    GIGOT: And Gingrich --

    HENNINGER: And for the past week, Gingrich looked like --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Steve, let me get you in here. Rick Perry dropped out this week and threw his support to Newt Gingrich, calling him a conservative visionary. How much is that helping Gingrich?

    STEVE MOORE, ECONOMICS WRITER: Oh, a little bit. Not a huge amount. But I agree with Dan that what turned around things for Newt was during that debate on Monday night when Juan Williams asked him those questions about the -- about black America and the welfare state, and Newt took it to both the media and to Barack Obama. Remember, he was talking about food- stamps nation and that President Obama was the food-stamp president. That was the beginning of this surge.

    The other big story -- and I agree with Dan's analysis. But, Dan, the real story is this presumptive nominee that everyone in this town that I'm sitting at, Washington D.C., wants to see to be the Republican nominee, cannot seal the deal with voters. And it's a big problem for Republicans as they move into the general election.

    GIGOT: Dorothy?