• With: Kim Strassel, Dan Henninger, James Freeman, Mary Kissel, Grace-Marie Turner

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 4, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report", the Republican race heads west, to Nevada. After a big win in Florida, is Mitt Romney's path clear to the nomination or does February hold new opportunities for his rivals.

    As Rick Santorum continues his Romneycare takedown, we'll look at the similarities to Obama's health care overhaul and the trouble that could cause the GOP frontrunner in the fall.

    Plus, will the president's new housing plan save struggling home owners or leads to the next big government bailout?

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report", I'm Paul Gigot.

    The fight for the presidential nomination headed to Nevada where the caucus goers today decide if Mitt Romney's winning streak continues. After a resounding win in Florida, the former Massachusetts governor is again playing the role of GOP frontrunner, and taking on President Obama, and his rivals in Tuesday night's victory speech.


    MITT ROMNEY, R - FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama demonizing and denigrates almost every sector of our economy. I will make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, for innovators and job creators, and unlike other people running for president, I know how to do that because I've done it before.



    GIGOT: But can he run on his resume alone? Let's ask, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Washington columnist, Kim Strassel; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.

    So, Kim, is Romney's path to the nomination now clear?

    KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: No, it's not. And for the very reason you say, he cannot run on biography alone. For the nomination, he's going to do very well. He's got a good month going ahead. and Mr. Gingrich is going to struggle to try to catch him at this point. But in terms of the general election, he's still got a lot of problems.

    GIGOT: Kim, let's talk about the nomination first. I mean, is he now the presumptive nominee, do you think, or how can he be stopped?

    STRASSEL: He is. And here is the problem for Mr. Gingrich. If you look at the races in February, Mr. Gingrich is looking ahead to Super Tuesday, March 6th. A lot of southern states, including his home state of Georgia, which he's hoping will catapult him back into the race. He's got a long February ahead, including the states that Mr. Romney did well in 2000, Maine, Colorado, Michigan and others where he's showing strength. So will the pressure be too great? Can he make it all the way to March?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think we're in a mysterious period, with the web and debates, it's hard to predict. I don't see anything that's going to stop Mitt Romney from getting in nomination. I mean, between the money and the organization and the fact that he now is the frontrunner, and I think it's that reality is beginning to sink in among Republican voters, it doesn't mean they're enthusiastic, but I think he's on a path to the nomination. The question is, is he going to arrive at the nomination with the wind of the Republican Party at his back.

    GIGOT: If you look at exit polls, James, he's still got work to do. He did well mopping all kinds of demographic groups so it was a resounding victory in Florida. But if you look beneath the surface of the exit polls, he still has trouble on the populous Republican right. And the Tea Party right broke even among those voters with Gingrich. Some evangelicals still breaking even with his opponents. So, how can he rally that Republican base, which is a significant part of the GOP? And he needs them in November.

    JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: He does. They're not enthusiastic. Where you see even in the polling, when he's doing well among Tea Party groups or evangelicals it's often people making the practical decision that they think he can win. But all along, we've been talking about this, Republicans and conservatives resigning themselves to Mr. Romney. And that's the weakness here, especially if --


    GIGOT: How does he overcome that, between now and the convention?

    FREEMAN: Well, the most important thing would be to get out there with a conservative agenda, instead of a vague biographical pitch that he's a smart guy and he's done well in business, and therefore he knows economics. As we've noted, his economic plan is not as good as his rival's plan.

    GIGOT: You know, Kim, some of the liberals say, if Gingrich decides to take this to convention, as he's promising, and Rick Santorum shows no signs of getting out, if they stay in, liberals are saying, you know, this could help Romney against Obama because it would make him appear to be more reasonable, and moderate. What do you think?

    STRASSEL: That's not really his problem. As we've been talking about, his problem right now, he does well with Independents. He does well with the center right conservatives. His problem is with self-identified conservatives who are not inspired by him. He's got to do what James said, but more importantly, stop talking on President Obama's terms. The president is talking about class warfare. Mr. Romney keeps falling into that trap. We had the flap this week he was talking about he can't really care about the poor. I mean, this was a bungled message, and actually what he was trying to say is he wanted economic growth. But goes back to his determination not to only talk about his love for the middle class and plays to Obama.

    GIGOT: What do we learn about Romney during the primary run so far? We've been critical, but what have we learned about his, his --


    HENNINGER: Well, I think we've learned that he's very smart. Very skilled. He's articulate, he's a fast learner, respond quickly, has a lot of energy.

    The one thing that we've also learned, Paul, and I'm beginning to find this quite, kind of a concern, he is supposed to have this vaunted organization, and this strong team. We opened with the excerpt from that victory speech in Florida. I watched it and read through it last night. And, you know, it's pretty clunky. It's a big moment and the whole nation is watching, and nothing special in that speech. You'd think someone would have invested the time to do it. It reflects a lack of focus on the part of this super manager. And I think that's reflected in some of these strange things he's been saying the past week.

    GIGOT: He's defining himself with Obama. This is what's wrong with Obama and I'm the anti-Obama. But there's nothing transcends that and says, if I win, here's the good thing I'm going to do at the end of the road. That seems to be a fundamental problem with any candidate. You've got to be able to say, if you elect me, it's a better future ahead. There's no better future, it just won't be Obama's future.

    FREEMAN: That's right. Also, in terms of what we've learned, we've learned he's not an instinctive conservative. Although he keeps saying, I don't apologize for my wealth, he still feels very defensive about it. Any issue that affects tax policy, under the programs, he has the defensive reaction of someone who doesn't want to appear to be favoring the rich in any way, or promoting free economics, really.

    GIGOT: Yes, that could be a long-term problem for him down the road.

    When we come back, he's promising to repeal and replace Obama-care if elected. How close is Mitt Romney's Massachusetts reform plan to President Obama's signature legislation? Is Rick Santorum right that it will hurt him in the fall campaign?



    RICK SANTORUM, R - FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney was the author of Romneycare, which is a top down government run health care system which read an article today has 15 different items directly in common with Obamacare.


    GIGOT: That was Rick Santorum at last week's debate in Jacksonville. Drawing parallel to Mitt Romney's health care reform and President Obama's overhaul. Mr. Romney, for his part, denied the similarities and says he'll repeal Obama-care if he's elected in November. Just how alike are the two plans and can he run against President Obama on this issue in the fall?

    Grace-Marie Turner is the president of the Galen Institute, and joins me from Washington.

    Welcome to the program. Great to have you here.