• With: Paul Gigot, James Taranto, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Dan Henninger, Matt Kaminski, Bret Stephens, Naomi Schaefer Riley

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," May 12, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama's pre-election change of heart. Will his new stance on gay marriage matter come November?

    And foiled airline bomb plot raises new questions about Al Qaeda's strength and leaves the administration struggling to explain intelligence leaks.

    And a former Wall Street Journal editor speaks out after being fired by the Chronicle of Higher Education for voicing a popular point of view.

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

    In a pre-election change of heart, President Obama came out in support of gay marriage, telling Robin Roberts, at ABC News, he personally believes that same-sex couples should be able to wed. Why now? Will it help or hurt the president's reelection chances?

    Let's ask to Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; opinionjournal.com editor, James Taranto; and editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz.

    James, it's been leaking out from the White House that this was planned sometime before the election, maybe at the Democratic National Convention time, and that Biden moved this up because of the timing of his remarks. How do you read it?

    JAMES TARANTO, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM EDITOR: Well, there are two things going on here, all right? One, is all right, from a political standpoint, this is about money. The Washington Post reported recently that one in six of Obama's top bundlers, people who raise large sums of money from other people, are gay, and also a lot of his gay supporters had been threatening not to donate money because of an executive order he didn't issue, having to do with discrimination in federal contracts, so he was coming under pressure from the money side.

    The second thing is, I don't think we should sell short the fact that this is what Obama believes.

    GIGOT: Yes.

    TARANTO: You called it a change of heart. It's really more a change of position. He took this position in favor of same-sex marriage when he ran for state senate in Hyde Park, Illinois, an ultra liberal neighborhood in Chicago in 1996. And this he is coming around and he decides it's no longer politically necessary for him to conceal his true views.

    GIGOT: The only thing, Dorothy, this was going to happen after the election or before. He was going to take enormous heat from the left if he didn't do this before the election, because, they would have said it looked cowardly.

    DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Yes. And he gets another chance to say he's evolved. You realize what's happened. A perfectly good word of the English language has been lost to time. It's political speak and you can never say evolved again.

    (LAUGHTER)

    The truth of the matter is that I think it will do him a lot of good. I think it will shore up his credentials. And I think it was going to happen anyway, but I don't think there's any disputing that it wasn't about to happen, what they were planning, in the last two days. And Biden did push it, and pushed it forward.

    GIGOT: Well, so what? It's a question of timing and it happens now as opposed to happening in August. The real issue is, I think -- I agree with Dorothy. I think it's going to help him on the left because he would have taken enormous abuse from The New York Times and The Washington Post, as a White House official was quoted as saying if he hadn't.

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: As the saying goes, gay politics ain't bean bags. They play rough. They boycott people. They started leaning on the president. I agree with James, it has to do with money and it also has to do with turning out the base, younger voters, very much in favor of this.

    But it was not a slam-dunk. In Ohio recent polls, they're pretty recent, put opposition of gay marriage at 52-32; Pennsylvania, another important state, 50-38; in Florida 48-38; and in Virginia and Iowa, it's a wash. So, he's going to have to go into those states and explain to those people why he did this. And I think the game is that, get this behind them now and by the time the election comes around, I think the issue will fade, quite frankly.

    TARANTO: One other state we should mention is North Carolina, a state Obama carried narrowly in 2008, which the day before this announcement, voted to amend its constitution to define marriage between a man and woman, 61-39. Obama is generally on the wrong side of public opinion here. Yes, this helps him with the left wing base.

    I think it's going to hurt and cost him votes from blacks and Hispanics, who are pretty much against same-sex marriage, particularly blacks.

    GIGOT: What do you think, Dorothy?

    RABINOWITZ: The four states he needs, Ohio, Virginia, they have passed marriage bans, gay sex marriage bans. However, forward looking, blacks are on this now as opposed to where they were 10 years ago, and Latinos, they're still well behind in any sense of approval for gays. And this is a constituency Obama needs.

    GIGOT: But it only hurts him if it becomes a really big issue. The question is, will it be this year if the economy is the dominant political issue? I argue no.

    HENNINGER: I don't know, Paul. It's one of those issues, he's done it, it's now been publicized deeply, and people who normally just don't think about it are going to go away and absorb this into their calculation for the November vote. And I think it will, over the next five months, have an effect, as James suggests, on certain classes of voters.

    GIGOT: What should Romney do? How should he handle it?

    HENNINGER: I think he should say he's in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. Most importantly, he should say this issue should be resolved in the states, not by the Supreme Court. We do not need another Roe v. Wade to tear the country apart for 25 years.

    GIGOT: The Defense of Marriage Act signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 to help with his re-election in that year.

    TARANTO: Yes, and voted for by Joe Biden among others.

    (LAUGHTER)

    RABINOWITZ: If Romney maintains his composure -- he's showing the capacity to be pushed, especially by this blowup of the story about bullying, and the impulse to apologize. If he maintains his composure on gay marriage and --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: And how would you define maintaining his composure.

    RABINOWITZ: Maintaining composure is by saying I have made my position clear on this. I believe in the rights for gays. This is what I believe and --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: But he's against gay marriage.

    RABINOWITZ: Yes, he is against it. Nothing wrong with saying that and then saying we are in a world of trouble, economically, and in terms of unemployment, and I don't think we can continue.

    GIGOT: What does this do to social conservatives who have been wary of Romney? Does this drive them more enthusiastically into his camp without Romney having to do anything?

    TARANTO: I think it does. It drives them more -- it makes them more enthusiastic about voting against Obama at least. The most important thing for Romney is the tone he strikes. He has to be matter of fact, I'm opposed to this and I'm for the traditional definition of marriage. He doesn't want to come across as harsh. he doesn't want to come across as a Rick Santorum type. That --