• With: Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Dan Henninger, James Freeman, Matt Kaminski

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 17, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Newt's Southern strategy comes up short but he says he is taking his fight all the way to the convention. Can he make it that far?

    And President Obama, the magician? He's trying to make the world and all of its troubles disappear until after the November election. Will it work?

    And a just-released report shows how rogue prosecutors defeated Alaska's Senator Ted Stevens and helped to give Obama-care its 60th vote. We'll have the details.

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

    With double victories Tuesday in Mississippi and Alabama, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum seems to have solidified his status in the Republican race as a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. But Newt Gingrich, who previously staked his campaign on winning those Deep South states, says he'll take it all the way to the August convention in Tampa.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    NEWT GINGRICH, R-FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will continue to run a people's campaign. I believe after the primaries are over, it will be obvious that the so-called frontrunner in fact didn't get there and, from that point on, we'll be in a whole new conversation.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

    GIGOT: And joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, and columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady.

    Mary, what do you think of Newt Gingrich convention strategy? It looks like even he does not believe he can get enough delegations during the primary.

    MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: No, Paul, it's absolutely bizarre that he's insisting that he's a viable candidate. He's not doing well anywhere. But I think that he may have -- be hanging on for three reasons. One, I think he doesn't think that Santorum can get the nomination.

    GIGOT: Right.

    O'GRADY: Secondly -- and he's not at that far behind in the popular vote from Santorum. Secondly, he doesn't think that Romney, because Romney hasn't been able to overwhelm anybody in any one of the states, is accepted by conservatives in the -- in the party.

    GIGOT: Right.

    O'GRADY: And, third, he thinks he can get to the convention, give a barn-burner of a speech and people will say, wow, the messiah has arrived. It's crazy.

    (LAUGHTER)

    It's crazy. It's really crazy, but this is the only way I'm able to rationalize what he's doing.

    GIGOT: If he can deny Romney the majority of the delegates, isn't it plausible that you could have a brokered convention where the Gingrich, coming out of the blue strategy, could prevail?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: It's plausible in poker that if you draw to an inside straight you can win a hand.

    (LAUGHTER)

    It's also possible that Belmont College could win the NCAA.

    (LAUGHTER)

    Romney needs 1,144 delegates. The plan is to keep him under a thousand.

    GIGOT: Right.

    HENNINGER: Keep him about 150 delegates away.

    GIGOT: So he wouldn't be able to cut easy deals?

    HENNINGER: Right.

    (CROSSTALK)

    HENNINGER: That's going to be very hard to do. We're pretty much finished with the South, other than Louisiana and Texas. We're moving into less conservative states for the primaries, now. And there will be no evangelicals to help Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum is going to have to make a case that he hasn't really done in Michigan and -- didn't win those states. He came close. So Romney is going to continue to grind out delegate wins. And I think, at this point, it's kind of interesting that these campaigns are now relying on a mathematical case against Mitt Romney.

    GIGOT: Yes, the map case, James, doesn't look good for Santorum and it's going to be hard to get there. What does he have to do to break out and have a rally of the kind that Ronald Reagan had in 1976 against Gerald Ford starting in late March?

    JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: I think he does need to delegate the conservative vote and it's probably necessary for Santorum's path to victory for Gingrich to bow out. Gingrich's campaign does seem to have failed in his own terms in that set himself up as pursuing the Southern strategy and that didn't work out. Now, if you look at -- I think that the Santorum victory argument would be, if Gingrich gets out, he's able to grab most of those votes. And I know the polling suggests that's undetermined but --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: And that's provided between Romney and Santorum.

    FREEMAN: But if you have one conservative alternative, he immediately gets a bump in the polls. He looks more formidable. I think the idea is forget the delegate count for the moment. Romney at almost 500, Santorum at about 250, a lot of the Romney votes are people settling for him because they think he's the guy whether they like it or not.

    (CROSSTALK)

    FREEMAN: Every different calculation is one on one.

    GIGOT: Every time Santorum has gone head to head with Romney in one of these big industrial states, where he's had the field, where Gingrich has not competed, Michigan and Ohio, being the two best examples, Santorum has come up short. What's failing in his message?

    FREEMAN: You could say that Gingrich wasn't competing. Gingrich was competing enough that, if Santorum was able to take those Gingrich votes, He wins. Illinois on Tuesday is a great example. Santorum, we're out of the south and not so many evangelicals, running strongly against Romney. You take the 10 or 12 percent that Gingrich is showing, maybe then it's a Santorum victory.