• With: Dan Henninger, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Jason Riley, Matt Kaminski, Bill McGurn

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 11, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Rick Santorum's three-state sweep on the GOP again. Can he build on his momentum in the states ahead? What is Mitt Romney's comeback strategy?

    Plus, the furor over President Obama's birth control mandate. Religious freedom clashes with feminist politics. We'll tell you why religion is losing.

    And growing trouble in the Middle East, as Syria sinks deeper into chaos and Egypt brings charges against American pro democracy workers. How should the U.S. respond?

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    RICK SANTORUM, R- FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the great gifts I've had in my political career is that no one ever thinks that I could ever win anything.

    (LAUGHTER)

    The gift of being underestimated is a wonderful gift and I think we might have seen a little bit of that last night.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

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

    That was Republican Candidate Rick Santorum after his stunning sweep of Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. The former Pennsylvania Senator upended the Republican race once again and highlighted the weakness of the presumed frontrunner, Mitt Romney. But can Santorum build on his momentum in the weeks ahead.

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

    And, Dan, how big of a threat to Mitt Romney is Rick Santorum?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think it's a significant threat. Once again, a problem of traction for Romney. Conservative voters are looking for another person, obviously, that's been the story from the beginning is the one candidate after another rose and fall. And Rick Santorum, when he finally got from stage left to stage center, is showing that he is a formidable political debater and fighter. And I think the problem for Romney is that he could continue to erode his support. I don't know if he can defeat Romney. I think he's in the game, got a shot, but Mitt Romney has shown himself, other than dumping negative advertising on opponents like Newt Gingrich, not to be very good at responding in kind to the kind of criticisms that Santorum is level at him.

    GIGOT: Dorothy, will Santorum -- why do you think Santorum would do better now than Gingrich did when he went one-on-one against Romney? What are Santorum's strengths that would allow him to be a more formidable competitor?

    DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: The fact that he hasn't had the dumping of negative advertising on him. There's a problem. The people who -- if you look at him in that victory speech which he delivered the other night, you saw a very different Santorum, and you said to yourself. If only he could be this person, ebullient, cheerful and very incisive, excellent speaker.

    GIGOT: If he can do it on that evening, why can't he do it other times?

    RABINOWITZ: Because he carries with him a history that would, compared to Newt Gingrich, if Newt Gingrich had eight marriages, it wouldn't equal this kind of --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: What are you talking about the social issues?

    RABINOWITZ: I'm talking a list of quotes that are deeply felt. Let me give you the first one that comes to mind. He appears in New Hampshire and says to a group, you know, I saw, I read John F. Kennedy's 1960's speech on absolute separation of church and state and, you know what, I wanted to vomit when I read that. Because this was the beginning of the secularization. This.

    GIGOT: OK, you're saying this social cultural issue, that's a big liability for him?

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: But wait a minute. It's carrying him right now.

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: He did well in Iowa because of it. He won in Missouri because of it, in Minnesota because of it. And in Colorado his vote was bigger frankly than the social conservative base. That's an asset.

    JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: It is an asset right now among certain segments of the GOP. But, Dorothy's got a point. Rick Santorum's distinguished himself politically as a social conservative. The question, can he bring in other parts of the GOP coalition, the free market, as well as the defense and so forth. And you need all three stools of the leg to make this work and, the question is, does Rick Santorum? We'll find out if Rick Santorum has staying power in upcoming contests in Arizona and Michigan, because that's where Romney will actually be contesting. One of the reasons he did so well this week is because, let's face it, Romney did not spend a lot of times in the states. Santorum had a lot of face time and then --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Dan, Rick Santorum called me this week after our editorial. he says, look, you've got it wrong. My message is broader than social conservative. I start with freedom. I start with the economic context we're in. My social message is crucial. But it's only part of that. Were we unfair to Santorum?

    HENNINGER: I don't believe so, because he hasn't really emphasized the things he was describing to you, up until this point. He's been running mainly as a social conservative, and the family values guy. But, what we're describing here or trying to describe is politics at a very high level. But the politician is going to compete for the presidency of the United States and they have to be adept. They have to be able to adjust. They have to change their game plan. and the question is whether Rick Santorum has the political skills to do that. I suspect that he does. He's a very smart guy. He's been in politics for a long time and he knows the issues. It's going to be really interesting to see in the primaries ahead what kind of game plan he runs.

    GIGOT: Let me give you another, Dorothy, a question. I think that Santorum, one of his major assets, there's nobody who doubts he believes what he says, all right? That's a very different thing when they look at Mitt Romney. People do doubt whether he means what he says. With Santorum, they say, you know what? I think this guy is going to do what he says.

    RABINOWITZ: But, Paul, they say the same thing about Ron Paul. Look at how consistent he is.

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Yes, but Ron Paul, he's out there on so many issues and Santorum --

    (CROSSTALK)

    RABINOWITZ: He believes these things and let me say it's not an inclusive message to continue to say -- and this is not going to be lying hidden forever in the states that he ran.

    GIGOT: Could it win him the Republican nomination? That's what we're talking about here the first order of business.

    RABINOWITZ: I don't think so.

    RILEY: No. I don't think it's enough to win him the nomination. It is enough, however, to make Romney very crippled, bloodied nominee when he comes around.