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Journal Editorial Report

Can Christie's tough talk propel him to top of GOP pack?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," July 4, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Chris Christie makes his White House bid official, promising to tell hard truths to the American voters. So can his tough talk propel him to the top of the Republican pack?

Plus, as the Supreme Court wraps up a controversial term, a look at the evolution of Chief Justice John Roberts and the role some recent decisions will play in 2016.

And Iran talks stretch pass this week's deadline as negotiators try to work out remaining differences. So is President Obama really ready to walk away from a bad deal?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not looking to be the most popular guy who looks in your eyes every day and tries to figure out what you want to hear, say it, and then turn around and do something else. When I stand up on a stage like this in front of all of you, there is one thing you will know for sure, I mean what I say and I say what I mean, and that's what America needs right now.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

That was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Tuesday making his White House bid official and promising to be the truth teller in the ever-expanding Republican field. Christie is the 14th Republican candidate to announce a run following Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal last week. Two more governors are expected to jump into the race later this month.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Main Street columnist, Bill McGurn; and Potomac Watch columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, let's start us off. How formidable of a candidate is Chris Christie going to be?

KIM STRASSEL, POTOMAC WATCH COLUMNIST: He's got a very steep path to climb here, Paul. He's not got much by way of approval ratings. A lot of voters view him with skepticism. But here's why no one should underestimate Chris Christie. He's actually running about as smart a campaign as he can run.

GIGOT: Really?

STRASSEL: He knows he's going to be running against a lot of other governors who come from conservative states, they're going to be able to say that they accomplished a lot more than he did in New Jersey, which is a tougher place to be. So instead of talking about his record he's going to do this about personality. And as you can see he's got a big personality.  He's going to be talking about straight talk, tell it like it is. But he's also doing this on ideas. He's already put out a lot of things on entitlement reform and tax reform. He's probably got more out there than most of the other candidates. So that's where he'll pitch this in New Hampshire and hope it carries him forward.

GIGOT: Bill, when we've seen Governor Christie -- and he's come in several times -- you get the impression that he believes the candidate is the message and the quality of the candidate. He thinks he's going to go on stage in those debates and outperform all the other candidates.

BILL MCGURN, MAIN STREET COLUMNIST: Right. And he's good on stage and he thinks I think that that overrides your record and so forth.

Look, I'm a resident of the people's republic of New Jersey --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Condolences profound, yes.

MCGURN: Yes. And I dread what's going to come after him here.

(LAUGHTER)

But I just think in the end --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: You mean in New Jersey, come after him.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGURN: But it's been a little bit of a missed opportunity and I also think records do matter. His is kind of mixed. And when you're a Republican voter voting in a primary, when you think New Jersey for your future, is that really going to get you to pull the lever?

GIGOT: Is that fair? Christie would say, look, Bill, I've held the line on spending more than any other governor in decades. I vetoed multiple tax increases. And I inherited a state with all these bad policies, no wonder we can't grow any faster with a Democratic legislature.

MCGURN: But he hasn't really been talking about pushing the Democratic legislature. In fact, he's talking about reaching out. He blames the squabbling politicians in Washington for our problems. What about the squabbling politicians in Trenton?

GIGOT: You think that's fair?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yeah, I do think it's fair. But I think it's -- we've got to sort of focus on where is Chris Christie going to get his elevation. He's sitting at about 2 percent in the polls. It's going to happen for him in New Hampshire or nowhere at all. Chris Christie is the master of the town hall. He's done hundreds of them in New Jersey.  And he's going to go around that state --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: They love him in New Hampshire.

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: They love him in New Hampshire. And it's not just personality, Paul. As you know when he comes in to visit you, you get entertained by Chris Christie, but he's a former federal prosecutor. He comes in well briefed, he has facts at his fingertips and he knows how to present them.  And those white papers that Kim was referring to on taxes and foreign policy and entitlements, he will talk about it in front of the town halls in New Hampshire. So I think he'll be competitive there.

GIGOT: Kim, is his pitch as a truth teller and an idea man, is that going to work? For example, are Republican voters going to be open to somebody who says I want to raise the retirement age a couple more years and I'm willing to means-test benefits -- entitlement benefits based on income, is that going to play?

STRASSEL: Look, I think that this election, this primary, that's going to be more of a possibility that Republicans are open to that than ever before. They want a debate on reform and forward-looking policies so they're going to be open to it.

The bigger question for Christie is, are they going to believe he's the guy to do it. And this gets to his liabilities, which is a lot of people, you know, here he is out there talking about being a truth teller and everything, but he was harmed by this scandal called Bridgegate.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: Because, you know, it did look like you have this administration that was out there doing underhanded things. How does that mesh with your argument that you just play it straight? So, there's a lot of skepticism among voters about a northeast Republican, is he really going to do what he says, that's going to be one of his biggest challenges.

GIGOT: All right, so, briefly.

HENNINGER: One other issue he won't repudiate when he invited Obama up to look at Hurricane Sandy one week before the 2012 election. He's always embraced Obama, said he was sensational, I think that is his Romney-care.  With the Republican base that was a big problem.

GIGOT: What about Bobby Jindal? Southwest governor. Not a -- not a northeastern governor.

MCGURN: Right.

GIGOT: What do you think of his pitch?

MCGURN: You know, I'm very attracted to Bobby Jindal but he hasn't gained any traction --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Why not?

MCGURN: I don't know. I don't know.

GIGOT: He's got a great record on education.

MCGURN: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- good record on economic growth.

MCGURN: Maybe it's just there's so many in the field. He's a governor, but he just hasn't caught fire. And it's just hard to explain why. I mean, there's been these sorts of racist attacks on him so forth, but I don't --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Those don't play in the Republican Party.

MCGURN: Right.

GIGOT: Kim, why do you think Bobby Jindal is still so far back in the polls? Because, as you know, he's a very, very smart man. And when he comes in, he gives you rapid-fire answers. I mean, the hardest thing is to get him to stop to slow down talking.

(LAUGHTER)

STRASSEL: That's true.

GIGOT: Because he never -- we always ask him a question and he goes three things. You know, he's always got three things instead of one.

STRASSEL: Eight things.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Which is fine. But the question is, you know, because he is so smart and he does have a decent record, why is he not catching on?

STRASSEL: Because he's not talking about it. He's not playing to his strengths. Look, here's what happened with Bobby Jindal. He came out a little bit after the Republicans lost the 2012 election and he was going to be the truth teller, he told everyone that the party had too much of a reputation of not being inclusive, got him in a lot of trouble with social conservatives and he's been trying to kiss and make up ever since then.  And he's been focusing a lot on cultural issues. He's not talking about all of his policy reforms in Louisiana and the things that he would really do and he's not playing it up as much as he should be.

GIGOT: Thanks, Kim.

Thanks to you all.

When we come back, the justices wrap up their controversial term as conservative anger over the Roberts court spills onto the campaign trail, so just how big a role will it play in 2016?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-TEXAS: If justices want to change federal statutes, they should resign from the bench and run for Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: The Supreme Court wrapped up its 2015 session Monday with rules on redistricting and EPA regulations and lethal injection procedures, but it's last week's landmark decisions on ObamaCare subsidies and same-sex marriage that have left court watchers reeling and wondering what Chief Justice John Roberts is up to.

Here with a look back at the term and the evolution of the Roberts court are "Wall Street Journal" senior editorial page writer, Collin Levy; and "Best of the Web" columnist, James Taranto.

Collin, some of our liberal friends would like to call this court a conservative court. After this term, can you really say that?

COLLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: This was not a conservative court this term, Paul. I mean, look, 56 percent of the decisions this term were liberal decisions and I think most telling of all the 5-4 decisions, Justice Kennedy voted with the conservatives only about 20 percent of the time, whereas he voted with the liberals almost half the time. Also tellingly, Justice Roberts went over and voted with the liberals on some key cases, including the Williams Eulie case on Florida judicial elections.  So, conservative, no.

GIGOT: What kind of a court is it, then, is it a court basically that whatever John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy decide on any given case? If it goes with the liberals, then it moves in that direction, if not, then it goes in the other direction?

LEVY: Sure. I think that's right. I think it was an opportunistic court in that sense. But I think you also have to look at the fact that there was a lot of fracturing among the conservative judges this year and a lot of lock-step voting by the liberals. The four liberal justices voted together 90 percent of the time. And it was a conscious effort. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said as much that she really wanted the court to speak with one voice on important cases. And so you saw a situation where we had 40 dissents by conservative justices this year, only 13 dissents by liberal justices. I mean, Clarence Thomas himself wrote more than 13 dissents this year. So I think that was also a strong -- strong sign of where the court was going.

GIGOT: Yeah, I think that's one of the untold stories here, James Taranto, the degree to which the four liberal justices vote in lock-step. That means if only one of the conservatives breaks in their direction, then you have a -- then you have a decision that goes with the liberals. And that's not -- that doesn't get a lot of attention in the press, but it's really been the case in the Supreme Court, not just this year but for several years.

JAMES TARANTO, BEST OF THE WEB COLUMNIST: That is true, and there's an additional point here concerning the dissents. The reason you have so many dissents from the conservative justices is because the conservative justices are really interested in legal ideas. So they have -- they'll write their own dissents because they have different ways of approaching the case, even if they reach the same results. The liberals are completely results oriented and so generally they'll just fall into line.

GIGOT: What kind of court do you think this is, James? How would you describe the Roberts court not just this year but over the last several years?

TARANTO: I would describe it as a closely divided court that often comes down 5-4. Usually, Kennedy is the swing justice. I think Roberts is generally more conservative than he's been getting credit for recently, because the Obama cases are -- the ObamaCare cases are such a -- a -- stand out so much in his record. I think his motive there is political. He wants to avoid getting into a fight with the president of the United States.

GIGOT: Yeah, Dan, Kennedy -- Justice Kennedy has already been heterodox on several issues, so it's not surprising that he goes one way or the other on some of these cases. But what do you think explains Justice Roberts on some of these cases? James said it's political. Chief justice wants to protect the reputation of the court. What do you think?

HENNINGER: I think there is something to that. He's a bit of a pragmatist. I think he was fearing, in King V. Burwell, that if they ruled against ObamaCare that the Congress would turn it into a chaotic fight and --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: That's not his job, though.

HENNINGER: I understand that. And I think the problem with these two -- it's a very divided court. I mean, Justice Scalia read his dissent on King v. Burwell from the bench. Then the next day, Justice Roberts for the first time read his dissent from the bench on the gay marriage case. And the problem here is that in those two ObamaCare decisions, the public generally understood that Justice Roberts had forced the reasoning in both the first one and the second one to get a preferred outcome. That's -- which sounds very political. A lot of the Supreme Court cases, the public doesn't understand the reasoning behind them, but these two looks so politicized, it's polarizing not just the court but the public.

GIGOT: James, how does Justice Roberts square his political invention in the ObamaCare cases with his clarion call and dissent for religious -- for judicial restraint in the gay marriage case?

TARANTO: Well, I think -- I mean, I haven't heard him comment on this --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: And you won't, I don't think. But I want your explanation.

(LAUGHTER)

TARANTO: Right. I think the answer would be that the -- the constitutional provision in question is much clearer than the statute they were interpreting in the ObamaCare case and, therefore, there was more of a need for -- to engage in judicial invention.

You're asking me to defend something that I find somewhat indefensible so - -

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: No, I'm just trying to under it.

Collin, what do you think? Where do you think this court is going to go now in the future?

LEVY: Well, let's -- let's hope it goes more to the conservative side.

But I just want to say quickly, I think there is an element here of vanity from Justice John Roberts where he really wants to be seen as his own man in hopes of making the court less political, but I think it's sort of backfiring on him. I think it's becoming more political and more vitriolic.

GIGOT: Collin, are you saying he doesn't want to be associated too much with Justice Scalia --

LEVY: I think -- yeah, I think he doesn't -- I think he doesn't --

GIGOT: -- for example, and the rest of them? But why would that be?

LEVY: I think that's exactly right. I don't think he wants to be seen as a reliable member of the conservative bloc because he sees that as somehow diminishing his special elevated status as chief. When he came in, he said he wanted the court to be seen more as a collegial environment than that, and I think he sees himself as playing a role in that.

GIGOT: Well, but it isn't very collegial if you read the dissents so --

LEVY: Right.

GIGOT: -- which they have often become vitriolic.

When we come back, it's down to the wire as negotiators try to work out a final nuclear agreement with Iran. So what big differences remain? And is the U.S. really willing to walk away from a bad deal?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will walk away from the negotiations if, in fact, it's a bad deal. If we can't provide assurances that the pathways for Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon are closed, and if we can't verify that, if the inspections regime, verification regime is inadequate, then we're not going to get a deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: President Obama this week warning that the U.S. is prepared to walk away from a nuclear deal with Iran if remaining disagreements over inspections can't be resolved. That threat came as negotiations in Vienna stretched on past Tuesday's deadline with both sides agreeing to extend talks for a week until July 7th.

"Wall Street Journal" "Global View" columnist, Bret Stephens, joins us with more.

So, Bret, how significant is this delay?

BRET STEPHENS, GLOBAL VIEW COLUMNIST: Probably not very significant despite what you just heard the president say this administration wants this deal so badly that they will go a great distance meeting Iran's demands.

GIGOT: So, the pledge here, I think we just heard, to walk away from a bad deal, doesn't strike you as accurate?

STEPHENS: Well, they have already walked so far towards a bad deal that I would be surprised if they were now to -- were to -- were to walk away.  Especially because what you hear coming out of the talks is they're fighting, quote-unquote, "creative ways" to bridge differences. Usually creative ways means, for example, if there's a disagreement about which sites can be inspected by international nuclear inspectors, it will be up to, say, a U.N. committee to decide who gets access at what point and when.

GIGOT: The latest concession that at least been reported that the U.S. is no longer going to insist that Iran come clean about its previous nuclear weapons work. That's important because if you don't have that benchmark of what they did in the past it's harder to detect cheating in the future.

STEPHENS: Right. And it's also important because what the president has said is that we need a one-year time frame, a one-year period, where we will be able to know that Iran has, for instance, decided to go for a nuclear weapon. But if you don't know what they've already -- what kind of capabilities, what kind of know-how they already have, it's very difficult to measure that one-year time period. If they have more nuclear know-how than you realize, then that one year may be six months.

GIGOT: Shrunken window.

What about the distinctions, the other outstanding issues, Dan? One is how quick sanctions relief will be? That's a big one. But I suspect they can finesse that by giving Iran some concessions, some money right away, and then phasing out sanctions on other things later. What do you think?

HENNINGER: I agree with that. I mean, the president's bald assertions not withstanding, they are rolling towards what, at best, we can call a flawed deal. I think the next arena for this issue is going to be the Congress of the United States. They're going to take this flawed deal and give it to Congress, and there is going to be a battle there. For instance, Representative Eliot Engel, of New York, who is a kind of leading foreign policy figure and the Democratic party --

GIGOT: A Democrat.

HENNINGER: -- and he said the inspections regime has to be airtight and he's troubled by what they're negotiating over there right now. So, the question will become, can they sell it to Congress. And if Congress votes against this deal, the president will veto Congress' bill, and we'll get into a big override battle in Congress over the details.

GIGOT: Let's talk about the inspections point, Bret, because that's one of the outstanding issues where the Iranians have said, no way they'll have access, the international community, to inspect military sites or on-demand inspections, whereas the U.S. and the West says we need to get in there.  How is that going to be bridged?

STEPHENS: That's exactly the point. Unless you have anytime, anywhere inspections, military inspections, really any inspections regimes you might construe -- or construct, excuse me, is worthless because at any point the Iranians can say, oh, you can't go into that closet, so to speak --

GIGOT: Right.

STEPHENS: -- because that's the military sight. For example, there's a big debate over whether IAEA inspectors --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHENS: -- the U.N. nuclear inspectors can go into a called Parchin (ph), which is a military site not far from Tehran. We suspect that's where the Iranians have been testing what they call explosive bridge-water devices, basically detonators for nuclear weapons, but the Iranians say, no, you can't go there because it's a military site. If you can't go into the military sites, it's not even worth talking about inspections.

GIGOT: Dan, I think the only way there isn't a deal is not to have anything do with Washington. I think President Obama has proven that he's willing to move so far to Iran that he'll do just about anything. I think the only question is, does the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Revolutionary Guard Corps think they can do more out of not doing a deal than they can with a deal? That is, they can - with a deal, can they make enough progress, keep making progress towards making a bomb and get sanctions lifted? I think they'll conclude they'll have to do a deal, it's better for them.

HENNINGER: I agree, and I think it's because of the sanctions. If they can get the revenue flow coming in again from doing business with European companies, that will never be reversed so, ultimately, I think there will be a deal.

GIGOT: I hope I'm wrong.

HENNINGER: I do, too.

GIGOT: But we'll see.

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?

HENNINGER: Well, Paul, I was in Charleston, South Carolina, this past weekend, the site of the racial killings, and I went over to the church on Saturday and Sunday to watch the funerals. And I have to say, the air of peace that one felt, so unlike Ferguson or New York or Baltimore, was striking. And you have to ask yourself why. I think it has a lot to do with the people I talked to, the habits of religion and practice of religion that you find among the black parishioners down in Charleston. If there's a way forward from racial tension, I think you will find it in those practices.

GIGOT: Hear, hear, Dan.

James?

TARANTO: Paul, I have a miss for anyone who believed that Hillary Clinton was telling the truth when she said she had turned over all her official e- mails to the State Department. We've now learned that correspondence was withheld between her and Sidney Blumenthal, the longtime aide whom White House wouldn't let her hire. There were nine messages missing in their entirety and the parts of six others. "The parts of" is what points to the scandal here, because that suggests that somebody in Mrs. Clinton's employ were going through the messages and selecting which parts not to send.

GIGOT: All right, James.

Bill?

MCGURN: Paul, this one I'm going to call a salute rather than a hit. It goes to retired U.S. Army Major Scott Smiley, who just completed a grueling triathlon that includes a two and a half-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a full 26-mile run.

GIGOT: Aren't you doing that this weekend?

MCGURN: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

It's called the Ironman and it would be a challenge to any of us, but Scott Smiley is blind. As a young officer out of West Point, he lost his sight when a car bomb blew up in Iraq. But he didn't let it stop him. He became the Army's first active-duty blind officer. So in addition to officer and gentleman, he has a new title, Ironman.

GIGOT: All right.

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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