• With: Jason Riley, James Freeman, Dan Henninger, Joe Rago, Collin Levy

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 2, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the Republican some conservatives love to hate, from this week's Medicaid announcement to his CPAC snub, is he laying the groundwork for his November reelection or shutting the door on 2016?

    Plus, the Supreme Court takes up a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the left is crying foul. But would striking it down actually signal racial progress?

    And President Obama's preschool predicament. He's pushing for a free universal program, but does it really work?

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

    New Jersey's Chris Christie this week became the eighth Republican governor to support the expansion of his state's Medicaid program under President Obama's Affordable Care Act. That decision won't do much to mend fences with conservatives, many of whom are still smarting from the governor's pre-election embrace of the president in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and his subsequent criticism of GOP leaders for their delay in bringing up a pork-filled storm relief bill to the House floor. Christie's name has been notably left off the invitation list at next month's Conservative Political Action Conference despite the governor's 74 percent approval rating in his very Democratic home state.

    Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.

    So, Jason, just a couple of years ago, Chris Christie was a Republican hero, going to be widely mentioned as a possible presidential nominee in the last election, so what's the issue here? Is it that Christie has changed or conservatives are the problem?

    JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: Well, Christie is running for reelection in a very blue state. Obama carried New Jersey by at least 17 point.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: -- increased his margin in 2008.

    RILEY: I mean, so you have a Republican running in a very blue state and doing what he needs to do to get elected. He cannot be Rick Perry in New Jersey. And so I think that's what you're seeing here.

    Now, you know, I'm not with Christie on a lot of his issues, gun control and global warming and issues like that, but again, you know, this is similar to what Scott Brown was doing --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: You've got to do --

    (CROSSTALK)

    RILEY: You've got to do what you've got to do to win.

    GIGOT: So the snub, CPAC snub reflects Christie's record in New Jersey, or are you --

    JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, certainly, his recent record. And CPAC is a conservative gathering, not an official Republican Party event. If they want to invite people they think are going to carry a conservative message and are consistent with that, they should. There's no obligation to invite people who are more in the center or moving to the left.

    And I think it's the recent trend where --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: What would you single out?

    FREEMAN: To me, the most disturbing thing about the recent Christie history is the Medicaid expansion, because he made reform of entitlements really the centerpiece of his arguments in the state and talked about it nationwide, and really helped build a reform case. And this -- this is not a massive expansion, but it is an expansion. And that's what I think you have to be disappointed if you're a federal taxpayer and a New Jersey taxpayer that he's now expanded --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: But he would now say, look, it's free money from the feds at least for a while. They're going to pay 100 percent of this. We need the money. What are you going to do? And eight other governors are doing it.

    FREEMAN: OK, we're all federal taxpayers, so this is money going out the door. And despite what he said this week, if he does to the take that money, it doesn't automatically go to New York or Connecticut.

    GIGOT: That's right.

    FREEMAN: This is an entitlement program. On the state level, what he's doing -- well, it appears to be a good deal, and he can explain that. Long-term, it's building liabilities for the state. And the history of entitlements is they get more expensive over time.

    GIGOT: Mike Pence, the Indiana governor, calls it -- Medicaid, the classic case of the gift of the baby elephant. They say, here, free, how cute. And when it grows up into an adult, you're paying for the hay.

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes. Great that you bring up Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, recently elected governor of Indiana. The reason we talked about Chris Christie is because two years ago he was talked about in the context of becoming a presidential candidate. At that time, Chris Christie was a strong figure in a really pretty weak Republican field, the people who were up there debating in the primaries. Next time around, Chris Christie is going to be up against a very strong lineup, a lot of them who will be at CPAC, Governor Scott Walker of Milwaukee, former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, of course, Marco Rubio. This will be a different group of people that Chris Christie will be the competing against and he'll be competing as a governor from the liberal northeast. I think it's an uphill battle.

    RILEY: I still think right now Republicans should be taking a big-tent approach. This is one of the most popular governors in the country. Democrat or Republican, he's forcing some people to take another look at the Republican Party, Independents in particular. This is not the time to be putting in place litmus tests about who is viable presidential material. We're three years away from Iowa.

    (CROSSTALK)

    HENNINGER: You know what, Jason, he has never come to the CPAC conference in Washington. He's been invited before and never shown up. And there's nothing new this year except they disinvited him.

    GIGOT: But the Christie record is mixed. He's got 9.6 percent unemployment in the state, one of the worst records in the country. He did impose a tax cap, no question about that, on property taxes. And he hasn't endorsed a tax, which is better than Bob McConnell, the Virginia Republican governor, who is much loved by conservatives, just did that.

    So I guess the question would be, how much has the Christie record done to be able to sell himself, James, to primary voters in 2016.

    FREEMAN: Well, you've got some nice reforms. 2010, you mentioned the property tax cap. 2011, he got a pension reform. Didn't get rid of the unfunded liabilities on pension and health care, but made a big dent in them.

    I think the problem he's going to face going forward is it's a slow growth, high unemployment in New Jersey. He can't fix it. After redistricting there, it's basically a Democratic lock on the legislature.

    GIGOT: Right.