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Journal Editorial Report

Hillary Clinton's biggest 2016 campaign hurdles

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 11, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Hillary Clinton is ready to run. What her candidacy means for Democrats heading into 2016.

Plus, the White House kicks off a campaign of its own in an effort to sell its Iran deal to skeptics. Are they changing any minds?

And as California faces the worst drought on record, a look at how green policies are compounding the damage.

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

Well, she's ready to run. Hillary Clinton is expected to officially launch her campaign for president tomorrow on Twitter, followed by a barnstorm of Iowa, the state that derailed her first presidential bid in 2008. The former secretary of state will be the first Democratic candidate to confirm a White House run. So will she keep others on the sidelines?

Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.

So, Mary, what do you think Secretary of State Clinton's biggest challenge is in running?

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: Well, I think her big challenge is her record. You know, she really hasn't accomplished very much in her public life, either as first lady or as a Senator or as a secretary of state. Her record was terrible. In the primary, I think her biggest challenge is that she will be attacked from the left as being not populous enough and too much of a hawk in foreign policy, and they will want her to behave more like someone -- more like Elizabeth Warren than like her record indicates.

GIGOT: I would put it a little differently, similar to Mary. I think her biggest problem, Dan, is being -- representing herself as a candidate of the future, not of the past. She has all that baggage from the past and they'll try to cut it loose, try to get people to think, except for the experience part, where she -- forget all that baggage about Whitewater and everything and the e-mails and Benghazi and all that. And she will say I'm the candidate of the future.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I won't be easy, Paul, but I think the Democrats know that. I think what we're about to see the big blue machine. This is a candidate who's going to be running with enormous amounts of Democratic money, and enormous amounts of Democratic organization. I would go so far as to say that Hillary Clinton is almost going to be a prop in their campaign. They will take her around. She will be able to give speeches.

(LAUGHTER)

But they are going to hammer the Republican candidate, try to take that person down, and promote her with television advertising and the usual organizational strength.

GIGOT: And, Mary, the gender card. She'll play the card that says I'm going to be -- you know it's time for a woman to be the president of the United States. Let's do it, the time is now. She's hoping that will help her a lot with --

O'GRADY: Her gender is probably her biggest asset, for sure.  Because, you know, there are so many women voters who will vote for her solely for that reason, I'm afraid, unfortunately.

GIGOT: James, what about this tension between Clinton and the left?  What do you think of -- how much tension will there be? Right now, she's essentially unchallenged. And none of the other big names, potentially Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, seem willing to get in.

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Yeah, I'm not sure how much tension there is. There's certain tension between Bill Clinton and the left. But remember, she's been really holding down the left wing in that household for -- essentially for their whole marriage. You think of the health care plan during Bill Clinton's presidency. She wasn't the one who ran NAFTA. She was the one who ran the big government universal care effort. So I'm not sure the left will have that much of a problem with her. But in terms --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But, James, this is not her husband's Democratic party.

FREEMAN: Right.

GIGOT: Barack Obama has taken this party substantially to the left.  She can't afford to run as a Clinton Democrat. She's going to have to run more or less as an Obama Democrat.

FREEMAN: Yeah. I think she'll be -- she'll be fine on that score with the left. I think her bigger weaknesses are -- include, besides the lack of achievement, the fact that she has very limited political skills.  I think this is something people forgot because they think of the Clintons together and they think of Bill as this charismatic rogue, who is very good at crafting --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: What do you mean by that?

FREEMAN: I mean, you look when she's gone out in public, her book tour was sort of a dud and then these odd statements about how she was broke. Then we flash forward to the last election cycle where she tried to sound like Elizabeth Warren and said that businesses don't create any jobs.

GIGOT: Lack of authenticity, is that what you're pointing to?

FREEMAN: Just lack of basic skills, authenticity, the ability to communicate.

GIGOT: With an audience?

(CROSSTALK)

O'GRADY: I think that's the connection.

FREEMAN: I think it's glossed over because the brand and the money are so huge. And I think her problem is going to be when she has to communicate with average voters and they get to decide.

HENNINGER: You know what all this means? The race is going to be very tight and we'll have a lot of fun with it.

GIGOT: Now, do you mean in the primaries or do you mean the general election?

HENNINGER: I mean in the general election --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: In the primaries --

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: -- state by state.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Dan, I cannot recall a primary over -- for an open-seat presidential nomination where you have had such an overwhelming favorite.  I mean, most of the party apparatus, as you suggested is falling into line.  We had a Senator come in, Ben Cardin, who said I think Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. He's from Maryland, where Martin O'Malley, the former governor, may run. And he's already declared her the nominee.

O'GRADY: She's anointed, for sure. But a lot of it has to do with her husband and his control over the party, the amount of money he has, the influence he has. I think that that's what's pushing all of this.

GIGOT: Is he an asset or a liability for her, given the sense that -- I mean, the history that he sometimes is hard to control? He'll go out and say -- you know, who knows what he'll say.

(LAUGHTER)

HENNINGER: He's both.

GIGOT: Remember in South Carolina, in 2008, he made a racial reference that really hurt Hillary and that campaign?

O'GRADY: But he recognizes that and he said this week that he's going to hang back until they get to the very end. And I think that means he's going to do a lot of operation behind the scenes and he has influence there.

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: Well, I respectfully disagree.

(LAUGHTER)

I think he's a big asset in front of the scenes because he is the rock star who gets people excited, who has charisma. She, unfortunately, does not have those talents and skills.

GIGOT: One other point, how -- does she need -- can she run as a third Obama term, Dan, or does she have to find a way to separate herself somehow from Obama? She said -- she's already getting behind the Iran deal, for example. She's going to embrace his global warming agenda, no question about it, climate change. There's some question how much she'll be an enthusiast for ObamaCare. But how much does she have to separate him?

HENNINGER: She has to. I think he's going to leave the presidency in a state of relative unpopularity, and it's going to be a challenge for her, especially on health care. ObamaCare is not getting more popular. Hillary was the originator of the original HillaryCare back then, and how she threads that needle is going to be a sight to see.

GIGOT: All right, thank you, Dan.

When we come back, President Obama makes the media rounds in an attempt to sell skeptics on the Iran nuclear agreement as critics warn the deal will further destabilize the Middle East and lead to deeper U.S. involvement in the region.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: President Obama made the media rounds this week, strongly defending the frame work accord his administration reached with Iran, calling the deal a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to curb the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and defending himself against critics that say the U.S. gave away too much.

We're back with Dan Henninger and Mary Anastasia O'Grady.

OK, Dan, so how is the sales pitch going?

HENNINGER: Frankly, Paul, I don't think it's going very well on the domestic or the foreign front, the foreign being the Middle East. Domestic first. Senator Mark Kirk, who with Senator Menendez, does has a bill in to vote on the thing --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Republican from Illinois.

HENNINGER: Republican from Illinois. He said later in the week that he actually doesn't think a deal exists. And I am beginning to agree with him because the Iranians have said from the beginning that they, "A," disagreed with the text that was put out. Their foreign ministers said even why do we need a text. I think it's looking more like a political weapon that Obama needed to cajole his domestic opponents. So I think it's disintegrating there.

On the foreign front, he's going to invite the heads of six Gulf States State to come to Camp David in the next two weeks. And the message to them is going to be, it has to be, do not proliferate, you won't need it because you'll come under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

GIGOT: Has Obama -- has the president told Americans that? That we'll have a nuclear umbrella protection for Saudi Arabia, for the Qataris?

HENNINGER: No American president has ever told the people that.

GIGOT: Well --

HENNINGER: That has to be the message.

GIGOT: But that hasn't been the case because there hasn't been nuclear weapons in the Middle East, except for our ally, Israel. So this is news that has to be debated in the United States. I mean, look, if you make that undertaking, it means that even if Iran attacks Saudi Arabia, say, conventionally, we are obliged to protect them with nuclear weapons, if need be. That's a very big undertaking.

HENNINGER: But you end up with two existential threats in the Middle East, Israel, the one we've always known about, and the six Gulf States.

GIGOT: So let's talk about that foreign -- how it's going overseas because the Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, came out late in the week and said basically what Dan said, there really is no accord.  The Americans put out a talking points that we don't agree with.

O'GRADY: Right. Right.

GIGOT: For example, we insist that sanctions be lifted immediately.  But the Americans say they're phased. Well, that's a pretty big difference.

O'GRADY: Right. He not only said that sanctions had to be lifted immediately, but he said there would be no inspections of any military sites. And --

GIGOT: And that contrasts with what the Americans are saying, which we'll be able to go anywhere.

O'GRADY: Yeah. And as Henry Kissinger said earlier in the week in our paper, this is a big problem when you don't have verification and you have no way to enforce the deal. You know, Khomeini also said that his negotiating partners were stubborn, they break promises and they're back stabbers. So he was not exactly extended the olive branch to the Obama administration this week. Now, some people say that's for domestic consumption at home so he can show, you know, that he's lined up with the hardliners. But I don't think that gives us a sense that they're anywhere near on the way to some sort of an agreement that we're going to get by June.

GIGOT: Dan, let me read something from the Henry Kissinger/George Schultz piece, former secretaries of states, in our paper, which had a large impact, a really interesting piece, and I think a highly critical one. Polite, but critical. Here's what they wrote at one point, "Some of the chief actors in the Middle East are likely to view the United States as willing to concede a nuclear military capability to the country they consider their principle threat." That is Iran. "Several will insist on at least an equivalent capability."

And that is your point about the Saudis and others, Egyptians maybe, the Turks, all wanting nuclear weapons.

HENNINGER: Right. I think what most concerned Henninger Kissinger and George Schultz, both of whom negotiated very large nuclear arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, is if you create a situation that they're describing where you have several, maybe six nuclear threshold states in the gulf, then what is your theory of political stability and security going forward? Because they have not proposed one yet, other than what we just said, perhaps a nuclear umbrella.

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: But you create a very unstable situation.

GIGOT: And in the Cold War, it was the United States versus the Soviet Union, so in a bipolar deterrence. In a multi-polar world, with a state structured -- essentially disintegrating in the Middle East, you have a much more chaotic situation.

Let's listen to Marie Harf, the State Department spokeswoman, who was asked about the Kissinger/Schultz piece.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece. Those are certainly -- there's a place for that. But I didn't hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Big words. Big ideas. No alternatives.

O'GRADY: Well, you know, one of the alternatives is not to do the deal. I think, you know, while Marie Harf was making these comments, in the same week, John Kerry had to come out and basically slap down Iran, complaining that they were intervening in Yemen.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Yemen. I know how you feel.

O'GRADY: Easy for you to say.

(LAUGHTER)

But it shows that we're negotiating with, you know, someone on the other side of the table who has absolutely no good faith here. So --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: One of the points Kissinger and Schultz made was that a nuclear deal will help the imperial ambitions of the region of Iran, briefly, Dan.

HENNINGER: Exactly. And you create a situation where you have mortal enemies, Iran, the Saudis, the Sunnis, close together with this sort of nuclear element in the middle of it and you create a really volatile situation.

GIGOT: A very dangerous, very dangerous moment.

When we come back, as California faces its worst drought on record, Governor Jerry Brown orders historic conservation measures. But are some of the green policies he supports contributing to the crisis?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: With the Golden State facing the worst drought on record, Governor Brown ordered the first-ever mandatory cut backs, imposing a 25 percent statewide reduction in water use. But are some green policies he supports compounding the damage?

Let's ask Wall Street Journal editorial page writer, Allysia Finley.

So, Allysia, in California -- you're a Californian -- California has had droughts before. They've had water shortages. Why does the impact this time seem to be so much more severe?

ALLYSIA FINLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: OK, well, this is one of the worst droughts that California has ever had in history.

GIGOT: OK.

FINLEY: But moreover, you have to consider that they put in a place of policies, most notably species restrictions or protections for endangered species like the delta smelt that had basically allowed water just to be flushed out into the ocean.

GIGOT: Now, explain why that is the case. And flushed out into the ocean without -- this is water that comes down from the Sierra Nevada Mountain's right?

FINLEY: That's right.

GIGOT: And instead of being able to be used by human beings, it is flushed into the San Francisco Bay?

FINLEY: Yes. Because --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Why?

(LAUGHTER)

FINLEY: Because the pumps may endanger a few of these three-inch smelts, because sometimes the smelt swim to the pumps, so instead they have to flush more of the water out to the ocean so to protect the smelts.

GIGOT: So even during the dry years -- and it's been several now -- when their state has been starved for water, they have been pumping this?  What kinds of magnitudes are you talking about?

FINLEY: They're still pumping, you know, tens of thousands of acres and sustaining tens of thousands of farmland.

GIGOT: And they're doing this because it's required by the Endangered Species Act?

FINLEY: It's required by the biological opinions that were propagated by the federal government agencies. And they really don't have -- well, they claim they don't have much flexibility but they really have more than they're letting on.

GIGOT: Than they're letting on.

There's also a problem of storage, right? The state doesn't have enough reservoirs.

FINLEY: Well, that's right. Because you can't build anything in California. You can't --

(LAUGHTER)

FINLEY: Particularly anything that green groups hate, and they hate storage.

GIGOT: That is big infrastructure projects just taking decades or years, maybe, in some cases, decades --

(CROSSTALK)

FINLEY: Decades because of all the environmental regulations, reviews, lawsuits. They just block everything.

GIGOT: And the other thing that some people talk about -- I mean, there's a lot of places in the world that have arid climates. They try something called desalination plants. OK? Why couldn't California build more of those?  

FINLEY: Well, again, you have the problem with the environmentalists blocking anything.

GIGOT: They don't like desalination?

FINLEY: They don't like anything that's going to produce more water and allow growth. But besides that --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: You mean growth of --

FINLEY: Growth in terms of economic population growth, in terms of allowing more resources to flow to the population, which enables growth.  They're as against that in toto.

GIGOT: They want California to be a lot less populated?

FINLEY: Yes. And in general, you know, restricted to the cities, urban cities. But the other problem with desalination is it requires a lot of energy and --

GIGOT: So it's costly?

FINLEY: Yeah. And California has had high energy prices because of the renewable mandates.

GIGOT: It has a mandate for renewables and other regulations really - - Californians pay more for energy, electricity, than almost any other state.

FINLEY: Almost any other state.

GIGOT: Almost any other state.

Well, this is quite a pretty picture, Dan.

HENNINGER: Well, you know.

GIGOT: No wonder why you moved to the east coast.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Against your will, I might add.

(LAUGHTER)

HENNINGER: This is exactly the point. So they have a crisis and they're having a difficult time governing it.

I remember last year, venture capitalists, Tim Draper, proposed dividing California up into six states because it is ungovernable.

(LAUGHTER)

They thought, well, this is impractical. But when you have a situation like this, and you have a crisis that they cannot resolve, an idea like Draper's makes more sense. Or else you get a Dust Bowl situation, and people will leave.

GIGOT: That's one of the real problems, Allysia, the agriculture in California, it supplies most of the fruits and the nuts for most of the United States and a lot more land has been fallow in California because of the drought.

FINLEY: That's right. The principle effects have occurred in the central valley, which has I guess over a 500,000 acres feed. Just in the last few years, they have been fallowed.

GIGOT: Have been fallowed. Wow.

James?

FREEMAN: Well, yeah, before we give more votes in the Senate to California --

(LAUGHTER)

-- I think maybe there's a moment here to say, what is the cost of environmental regulation? It frequently can seem cost free. This is kind of bringing it home, both in terms of what people pay for water, what fruits and vegetables are able to be grown, whether agricultural workers can have a job. So I think now is a good time to ask questions like, is the delta smelt really a unique species?

GIGOT: We need a better balance between environmental rules and growth.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Thank you.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits & Misses" of the week.

Dan, start us off

HENNINGER: Well, Paul, a miss and half a hit to the University of Michigan where, this past week, something call the Center for Campus Involvement decided they would not to show "American Sniper" because it's racist, instead substituting "Paddington Bear." Well, the adults up there took over at Michigan and the administration reduced the decision, even said it was a mistake. And their new football coach, Jim Harbaugh, said Michigan football would be watching "American Sniper" proudly. A victory ultimately for Midwestern values. Go Michigan.

GIGOT: All right.

Allysia?

FINLEY: So this is a miss to Robert Kennedy Jr, who again this week was raising alarm about vaccines, how they cause autism, and all of kinds of other -- who knows what people are putting into the vaccines. This is the same guy who said that people who raise questions about climate change should be punished?

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: All right.

James?

FREEMAN: This is a hit, Paul, to Major League Baseball. You know, a lot of people have been predicting the demise of baseball. Its audience is getting older. National TV ratings are not what they have used to be.  I've been among those people predicting --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Feeling a little older, are you?

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: No, I have to give them credit, the old ballgame is really embracing new media. The first week of the season, they have had just records in terms of online activity, video streams. TV ratings are up, too. They set an attendance record in spring training. So don't write the obituary yet.

GIGOT: And your boys follow baseball?

FREEMAN: Yeah, here and there.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: All right.

And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us @JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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