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Journal Editorial Report

Can Donald Trump secure the GOP nomination before Cleveland?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal: Editorial Report," March 19, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST:  Welcome to this special edition of the "Journal: Editorial Report."  I'm Paul Gigot.

And then there were three.  Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are the last candidates standing in a Republican field that once numbered 17.  Some big wins on Tuesday solidified Donald Trump's status as the clear front- runner, and the billionaire businessman thinks he can close the deal by the Republican convention in July.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION:  I do want to finish this off.  I'm dealing with two smart, tough guys, and I want to make sure I end up winning.  I'd like to get to the finish line. I'm pretty good as getting to finish lines.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT:  But opponents argue his path to the nomination is far from straight, the delegate math far from clear.  And party leaders this week said they're bracing for the possibility that the fight could go all the way to Cleveland.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WIS., SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  There's more likely to become an open convention than we thought before.  So we're getting our minds around the idea this could very well become a reality and, therefore, those of us involved in the convention need to respect that.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT:  Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Washington columnist, Kim Strassel; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and former Wall Street Journal editorial board member and FOX News contributor, Steve Moore.  

So, Kim, start us off by putting this race into context.  How close is Donald Trump to wrapping this up?  

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST:  Well, look, as we said, and he did have a good night and technically won a number of states, but by losing Ohio, which was a winner-take-all state, to John Kasich, it denied him a crucial number of delegates.  That means, going forward, Donald Trump has to get more than 50 percent of the remaining delegates out there.  That's a tough thing to do.  When you have both Ted Cruz and John Kasich saying they intend to be there to the end, just trying to deny him delegates here and there and trying to get to a contested convention, it doesn't look like he will wrap it up soon.  

GIGOT:  Kim, there's no doubt in your mind that John Kasich and Ted Cruz have to start winning more primaries if they're going to head off -- go into the convention themselves with enough delegates?  

STRASSEL:  Well, they have to win -- they have to do well in a lot of primaries.  Look, as we go forward again into some of these races, what you have is a systems that award delegates on a hybrid basis or a proportional basis.  What it means is there's more opportunity for them to split the vote with Donald Trump, pull away almost as many delegates as he does, if they do well.  And the math going forward is also a bit different in that we have a lot of states, for instance in the northeast and out in the west that may prove more favorable to guys like Ted Cruz in the West or John Kasich in the northeast, and that might help them, too.  

OK.

Steve, the thing that's fascinating about Donald Trump's support is he has a loyal base of support, 37 percent of the votes so far, in some states now creeping over 40 percent.  They're very loyal to him.  They seem impervious to criticism and negative advertising.  On the other hand, there's a real resistance to him on the part of a lot of Republican voters.  He hasn't gotten over 50 percent yet.  How does he compare in your mind to previous Republican front-runners?  

STEVE MOORE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR & FORMER WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER:  He's what I call a political black swan event.  We haven't really seen anything like this before, Paul, so it's hard to really liken this too much of anything we've ever seen.

I think the closest parallel, I would say, would be Ross Perot back in 1992.  

GIGOT:  1992.

MOORE:  Right.  In fact, I wrote a column this week saying, you know, if Trump does win -- and I think he's likely to.  I would like to see Cruz make a run at him.  I think he could remake the Republican Party and it will look more like a Perot reform party than the conservative party that Ronald Reagan turned the Republican Party into.  

One other point.  Some of you are missing the point about who's got all the delegates.  What's really important I think to the voters is you've got a candidate who has won almost all of the big states.  He won Florida by a huge margin.  He's won Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina.  Likely to win out in Arizona.  Almost certainly will win New York.  And I think regards of whether he gets to a majority of the delegates or not, if he's winning all these big states and goes with --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  OK --

MOORE:  -- but a plurality, and then they try to take the nomination away from him through these byzantine rules that nobody knows how they work, I think it could cause a civil war within the party.  

GIGOT:  Dan, those rules have been in place since 1860, the fact that you have to have a majority plus one of the delegates.  That's the rule.  They've been the rules.  Lincoln won the nomination on the third ballot.  So it does happen.  It hasn't happened recently, but it has happened.  So do you agree with Steve on the issue -- the idea that a contested convention, open convention, if Trump can't get the majority in the first ballot, that it -- open convention is fair?  

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR:  I think an open convention is fair.  I agree with Steve up to a point, but we have to try to keep in mind that the election doesn't end after someone gets the nomination.  You have to run against your opponent in the other party and win that election.  
What we're looking at here are three candidates, all of who have a plurality of support inside the Republican Party.  As you were suggesting earlier, we don't yet have a majority candidate.  You really would prefer a majority candidate going into a campaign against Hillary Clinton, who will have majority support at least within her own party.  

GIGOT:  James, you have these -- a big chunk of voters in some of these states who are saying they won't vote for Donald Trump, I think as much as 30 percent in some of these states.  And up to 40 percent saying they might consider a third-party nominee if it's Trump versus Hillary Clinton.  

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR:  The polls are really historic in terms of how bad it is for a front runner here.  And it's not just within the party.  In a recent "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll recently 67 percent of Americans cannot see themselves voting for Donald Trump.  His negatives are at 64 percent, strongly negative at 54.  Most people in the country have a strongly negative view of him.  So if there's a Trump nomination, it's very hard to see.  Not impossible, might be figure out a way, but very hard to see how he becomes president.
 
GIGOT:  All right, we're going to continue this in the next block.

Ted Cruz and John Kasich both vowing to fight on despite Donald Trump's delegate lead.  Does either candidate have a realistic path to the nomination?  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH, R-OHIO, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don't think anybody's going to have enough delegates.  I think Cruz has to get look 70 percent of the remaining delegates and we're going into where my strength is.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KASICH:  I want you to know something.  We're going to go -- we are going to go all the way to Cleveland and secure the Republican nomination.  

(CHEERING)

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Every Republican has a clear choice.  Only two campaigns have a plausible path to the nomination, ours and Donald Trump's.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT:  John Kasich and Ted Cruz both claiming a path forward on Tuesday and promising to stay in the race until the Republican convention in July. Kasich racked up his first and only victory in his home state of Ohio.  And while Cruz failed to win any of the five Republican contests outright, he did add to his delegate total.  Does either candidate have a realistic shot at the nomination?  

Before we get to that, Steve, I want you to talk up that question from the last block that Dan and James raised about Donald Trump's enormous negative ratings.  This is the obstacles that some Republicans feel.  He has a negative 39 percent favorable/unfavorable in the latest "Wall Street Journal" poll.  Comparing with Hillary Clinton at negative 13, Ted Cruz minus 18.  How does Donald Trump unite the party and then win in November with those ratings?  

MOORE:  Look, I agree with some of that.  I think the biggest problem for Trump is this gender gap, which is really huge, and a lot of Republican women are saying they won't vote for Trump.  

I think if Trump runs as a general election candidate, I think he actually reshuffles the deck of how politics normally works.  I do think he would lose maybe 20 percent to 25 percent of Republican voters, but he's going to win millions of Independent voters, and I think a lot of Democratic voters. Remember Hillary is not popular among Democratic voters.  I think Trump would have a good chance of working-class Americans coming over to the Republican Party.  

This is sort of the argument, Paul that I've made about -- look, I love Ted Cruz and I've worked for John Kasich.  I'm only making the point that the fact that he is attracting so many millions of new voters into the party is a good thing.  And I shudder when I hear people say, well, they're not really conservatives and so on.  I thought Republicans wanted these voters in the party.  

GIGOT:  All right, James, let's talk about Ted Cruz.  He says he's the only one who can really compete.  Can he -- can he do this?  

FREEMAN:  He can, and he is the only one.  That's just a mathematical fact.  
It's either going to be Trump or Cruz --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  Even before the convention?  

FREEMAN:  Before or after, any time unless the Republican Party wants to blow up its rules and probably alienate Trump voters.  It's either Trump or Cruz.  This is why I've been arguing Kasich should get out of the race.  I think you want particularly that one-on-one matchup, because we're going to learn about the new Republican Party.  One, you've got Cruz ahead of Trump by double digits nationwide in head-to-head polling.  But also, even if you don't believe he would beat him one on one, you find out how many Republicans would vote for Trump, when it's a contest between the two.  You find out where the ceiling in his support is.  You learn a lot about can he be a candidate?  Should there be a third party for those interested in that.  I don't think they should.  

GIGOT:  Here's the problem with Cruz, though.  He's been telling a lot of Republicans for months, I can only do this with conservatives.  I don't need you moderates.  He's doing very poorly, much worse than Trump, among self-described moderate voters, self-described somewhat conservative, and he's not getting the vote so far of Republicans in metropolitan areas.  

HENNINGER:  That's the point.  There were some things last Tuesday that I think are troubling to me, at least, in terms of James' argument for Cruz, which is that around Chicago and Cook County -- these are big urban states, Illinois and Ohio.  He did poorly around Cook County in Chicago.  But in Ohio, he did very poorly around Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus, and especially in Cincinnati.  He was down around 10 percent or 11 percent.  Trump tripled his numbers in all of those places.  If you're going into big urban areas like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City, Nassau County, I'm hard put to see how Cruz is going to compete against Donald Trump --

(CROSSTALK)  

GIGOT:  This is where a lot of the primaries are, in the northeastern and Midwestern states.  

FREEMAN:  Why didn't Kasich do better in Michigan or Illinois?  Why has he gotten crushed everywhere, except in the home state?  

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN:  Ted Cruz is not a perfect candidate.

(CROSSTALK)  

GIGOT:  Nobody is a perfect candidate.  We can stipulate that.  

FREEMAN:  But mathematically, unlike Kasich, he can win.  And if your view is to deny delegates to Donald Trump so there can be a fight at the convention --

GIGOT:  The question is, if your view is to deny delegates to Donald Trump so that there can be a fight at the convention, you're --

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN:  That's not my view.  My view, if they blow up the rules, they will alienate Trump voters, which is a huge mistake.  You have to bring those people into the tent.  

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  Kim, respond to James and --

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN:  Look, it's the current rules of the Republican Party --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  What does John Kasich have to do to show he can compete?  

STRASSEL:  The fatal flaw in James' argument is he says it's mathematically possible.  In fact, Ted Cruz would have to get about 70 percent of the remaining delegates.  How you do that?  How do you do that when, as you point out, Paul, he cannot seem to attract more than 20 percent or 30 percent of the most diehard conservatives?  That is a stretch.  I think what John Kasich's argument is, now that Marco Rubio is out of the race, it's likely many of Rubio's voters go to him.  They liked the similar optimistic, sunny candidate.  He will go into the proportional and hybrid states, play in particular districts where, as you said, those kind of voters, the more moderate, less conservative, modern, suburbanite, white collar, educated voters are, and claim to be their champion, and try to come out with an amount of delegates going forward as Cruz and Trump, and deny Trump the vote.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  We've got to go, I'm afraid.  Sorry.  

MOORE:  He hasn't done wet with those voters.  

GIGOT:  When we come back, he continues to run strong with working-class voters, a block that could serve him well in some upcoming primaries, not to mention a general election matchup with Hillary Clinton.  What's behind Donald Trump's blue collar appeal?  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT:  Donald Trump's victories Tuesday showed, once again, his strength with blue collar voters, a group that could play a key role in some upcoming GOP primaries, not to mention a general election matchup with Hillary Clinton.

John Brabender is a Republican political strategist.  He was a top adviser to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.  

John, welcome back to the program.  

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL STRATEGIST:  Happy to be here.  

GIGOT:  Donald Trump voters, who are they?  And why are they so attracted to Donald Trump?  

BRABENDER:  Well, it's interesting.  It's taken me time and I think a lot of people time to understand the whole idea of Donald Trump is really less about Donald Trump and more about his supporters.  They have a tendency to feel very angry, disenfranchised, and very few people know much about their lives from an economic standpoint.  They're very displeased with Washington and they're tired of America getting sand kicked in their face, is their perception, and Donald Trump has rallied them to give them a voice, a megaphone, if you will, to be heard.  

GIGOT:  John, is this nationalism, make America great again, that's part of the deal, or is it their economic circumstances, where they feel economically pressured, that they're -- that they're looking for somebody to improve the economy?  Which is it?  Or is it a little bit of both?  

BRABENDER:  I think it's multiple things.  First and foremost, they feel like both parties have let them down, left them on the economic playing field or battleground, if you will, and they don't see anybody in either party that resonated with them to give them a voice.  Second of all, they're tired of Washington, and feel like they're not paying attention to them.  But third is, you know, it was interesting, I remember this in the Bush campaign in 2004.  They were monitoring something, where they were asking Americans, are you proud to be American?  

GIGOT:  Right.  Right.

BRABENDER:  They were seeing a big trend line over many years where many people said no.  I think that trend line has been become worse.  These are people who are tired of not being proud of their country.  

GIGOT:  That's the nationalistic, patriotic sentiment that --

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER:  Populism, absolutely.  

GIGOT:  Now you, working with Rick Santorum, targeted those voters.  You saw some of this in 2012.  You got some of them, but you couldn't persuade enough of the other Republicans to come along, moderates, not-ideological conservatives necessarily.  What is the difference this time that has allowed Trump to get a bigger coalition than Santorum or Mike Huckabee before him?  

BRABENDER:  Well, I think there's probably three big differences.  First of all, is that Donald Trump has a much, much bigger megaphone than Rick Santorum had.  Second of all he's had more money than Rick Santorum.  And third of all, I think this is the biggest point, they're angrier than they were in 2012.  So I think he's tapped into that and galvanized them.  

GIGOT:  Trump says he's bringing in millions of new voters.  He's going to appeal to Independents and Democrats.  I've seen a lot of polling that suggested these voters aren't really all that -- there aren't that many Democrats.  These are Republicans who haven't voted before, or if they have voted before, you know, they've been kind of sullen, maybe haven't voted in primaries before.  Which is it?  

BRABENDER:  Again, I think it's both.  We saw last time, in 2012, particularly in states like Ohio, where a number of conservatives stayed home, because they could just not relate to Mitt Romney and didn't feel he was their candidate.  However, we're also seeing things like in Pennsylvania this year where there were any registration numbers than came out that showed something like 40,000-some Democrats actually switched over to Republican.  A lot of people believe this is the vote for Donald Trump.  
I think the most interesting part is there was no organized effort.  That was totally organic and that's something that's very important about the fall election.  

GIGOT:  Does the higher Republican turnout in primaries this year, up from 2008, where the Democrats are somewhat down, does that tell you anything about the fall election, or could that just be a primary phenomenon?  

BRABENDER:  No, I think it does, Paul.  I think it tell us two things.  One, it's increased participation by people who haven't been as strong as Republicans.  These are not litmus test Republicans.  These are people who have sat on the sidelines.  Second of all, I think that will be very positive for Republicans all up and down the ballot, frankly, in November if they come along, if they're engaged.  That's why I think how this plays out with a contested convention, all these types of things, they could go back to being off the playing field if we're not careful.  

GIGOT:  But the issue also is you still have this resistance in the Republican Party to Trump.  You see it in his negative ratings, in some of the support that still exists for his competitors.  How can he unify the Republican Party with so much traditional Republican resistance?  

BRABENDER:  I think that's a fair question.  I think many in the party are going through basically the five stages of grief and they're still in the denial stage.  They never thought that this would truly happen.  I also think there's blame on the Trump campaign, quite frankly.  I think there are things they can do to add more gravitas, add more vision, put a few more people on the stage with him, not just always about Donald Trump, to show some of this unity.  I think he has to do that in both rhetoric and actions, as well as to become more of a visionary candidate, rather than just an argumentative candidate.  

GIGOT:  OK.  We'll see if he's up to that.

John Brabender, thank you for being with us.  

BRABENDER:  Thank you.  

GIGOT:  Much more to come in this one-hour edition of the "Journal: Editorial Report."  Still ahead, Hillary Clinton's clean sweep in Tuesday's Democratic primaries leaves her looking for a general election and a potential showdown with Donald Trump, but the billionaire businessman might not be her biggest obstacle on the road to the White House.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(FOX NEWS REPORT)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Our next president has to bring our country together so we can all share in the promise of America.  We should be breaking down barriers, not building walls.  

(CHEERING)

CLINTON:  We're not going to succeed by dividing this country between us and them.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST:  Welcome back to this one-hour edition of the "Journal: Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.  

That was Hillary Clinton on Tuesday sounding very much like a general election candidates after sweeping all five states up for grabs in the Democratic presidential race.  Her campaign is reportedly preparing their Trump battle plan, but does the Democratic front-runner have her own vulnerabilities to overcome first?  

We're back with Dan Henninger, James Freeman and Kim Strassel.  

So, Kim, Bernie Sanders got whipped out on Tuesday.  Is the end of his challenge to Hillary Clinton?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST:  He was always going to be a very hard challenge.  He came up out of nowhere.  And there was some talk since he had the surprise victory in Michigan that perhaps we were going to see resurgence.  In fact, what she did to him on Tuesday was beat him in most every important group and in states that, if he was going to win anywhere, he should have won them.  So it's very difficult, just not in the delegate map, but in the map going forward to see any path for Bernie Sanders to get to the nomination.  

GIGOT:  I guess I would say at least there's a silver lining here in a sense of the trade message, the protectionist message in terms of Bernie Sanders, it didn't really resonate as it had in Michigan.  It kind of fell flat in these other states.  

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR:  Yeah.  The other silver lining is Marxism may be losing --

(LAUGHTER)

The U.S. is not going to nominate a major party candidate who is a Socialist, Democratic Socialist.  

But I think, barring an indictment of Hillary Clinton, this is now her nomination.  Not only did she have the sweep on Tuesday, she has the real delegate lead.  The game has also been rigged by the party establishment to give her all these super delegates.  So that's her insurance policy in case he actually did mount a real charge among actual voters.  So I think, barring a real criminal problem, she's got the nomination.  

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR:  True.  

GIGOT:  What did we learn about Hillary Clinton as a candidate in this primarily season?  How does she compare now to what she was in 2008?  

(LAUGHTER)

HENNINGER:  Well, like she said last week, we're going to put coal miners out of the work.  

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER:  I can't remember anyone ever running for president saying they're going to kill jobs.  

(LAUGHTER)

But she has other serous vulnerabilities, Paul.  James alluded to one of them, which is some of the Democratic Party now is Democratic Socialist.  Younger voters in their 20s, by and large, I will say are simply Socialist.  This is their moment.  Bernie Sanders was the vessel for that.  This is something that has been building for a while.  The other vulnerability is her support is pretty weak among male voters.  This raise the question about that Steve Moore did earlier about whether some of these Democratic males are going to say, I'm done with this party, Trump or Cruz appeal to me, Kasich, and I'm abandoning the Democrats because of what they have become.  So she's got a lot of her own unification work to do.  

GIGOT:  Yeah, Kim, she has untrustworthy issues, too.  Her net rating was minus 13, Trump's is much higher, but she has real credibility problems.  I guess the question is, you always run -- it's one-on-one in the end of November, so I guess it's vulnerability maybe versus vulnerability.  But the other question is, can Hillary Clinton mobilize enough of the Obama coalition to be able to replicate his majority?  

STRASSEL:  That gets to her super big problem, Paul, which is that you've got the vulnerables you have just outlined.  We have seen there's not been a lot of enthusiasm for her out there.  She's been -- the turnout numbers have not been very big.  She's been pushed to the left in order to compete with Bernie for all these voters.  And everyone keeps saying maybe she'll pivot back in the general election.  Maybe she will, but can she convince, if she does, that ascendant wing of the Democratic Party, the liberal people, the part of the Obama coalition, to come out and vote for her on the day that it matters?  That's one of her big problems.  

GIGOT:  James, you mentioned the FBI.  Is that her biggest obstacle now, the investigation into her e-mail handling/mishandling of classified information on her private server?  

FREEMAN:  That would be the biggest obstacle to the nomination.  As we've been discussing, she has big issues trying to get elected, being so unpopular.

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN:  But, yes, the potential legal problem is there.  And Judge Mukasey, former attorney general, has laid out in our pages what appear to be clear violations of law.  I think if this were any other person not named Clinton, you would normally expect charges.  When we have looked at cases previously -- General David Petraeus, comes to mind -- and people would argue he did far less egregious behavior.  There wasn't this systematic, long-term effort to wall off all communication from not only public scrutiny, but also the security measures we rely on.  

GIGOT:  But the Democratic Party is coalescing around Hillary Clinton.  It is uniting.  The Republican Party is still a long way from united.  And divided parties usually lose.  

Still ahead, President Obama's Supreme Court pick sets up an election-year showdown with Senate Republicans.  A look at the upcoming battle on Capitol Hill, next.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It is tempting to make this confirmation process simply an extension of our divided politics, the squabbling that's going on in the news every day, but to go down that path would be wrong.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT:  President Obama Wednesday unveiling his pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.  The nomination of federal appeals court judge, Merrick Garland, sets up an election-year showdown with Senate Republicans, who, again, this week, vowed not to hold confirmation hearings before November.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  It is the president's constitution right to nominate a Supreme Court justice.  It is the Senate's constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent.  The Senate will continue to observe the Biden Rule so that the American people have a voice in this momentous decision.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT:  We're back with Dan Henninger.  And Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Colin levy; and "Best of the Web," columnist, James Taranto, joins the panel.

So, Colin, what kind of judge is Merrick Garland?  

COLIN LEVY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER:  Paul, Merrick Garland is the kind of judge specifically chosen by President Obama to put Republicans on the hot seat.  He's not known as a bomb-throwing liberal, but President Obama knows he'll be a reliable fifth vote on the court, and he knows that, because
Judge Garland has a long tenure on the D.C. circuit Court of Appeals.  The D.C. circuit Court of Appeals doesn't hear a lot of hot-button political issues, but they do hear a steady diet of federal regulatory appeals.  

GIGOT:  Right.

LEVY:  And on those kinds of cases, he has shown significant and consistent deference to administrative agency decisions.  That's something important to President Obama, because he knows the next court will be hearing a lot of challenges to his regulatory agenda.  

GIGOT:  So the idea is -- people are describing it as a moderate, but the truth is if he gets on the court, on all of these hot-button issues, he's almost certain to vote with the four liberals to create a new liberal majority?  Is that what you're saying?  

LEVY:  Yes, there's no question about that.  If you look at what's happened, even within the liberal minority or semi-minority that's currently on the court --  

GIGOT:  4-4.  

LEVY:  Yeah, 4-4.  You know, the justices that come on, Kagan and Sotomayor, people said they would be moderates, too, but there's been incredible consensus on the left side.  That's something that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made a point to encourage.  If you look at Justice Kagan, the last term on the court, she disagreed with her colleagues in single digits across the board, 7 percent, 6 percent, 8 percent, with her fellow justice.  So I think there's no questions he would be in the same category.

GIGOT:  And, James, one issue I want you take up, guns, Second Amendment jurisprudence.  Merrick Garland seems to be on the left, disagreeing with the majority on the Supreme Court, by implication, from some of his decisions on the right to bear arms for individuals.  

JAMES TARANTO, "BEST OF THE WEB" COLUMNIST:  It's probably a safe bet that if Obama or Mrs. Clinton puts a justice on the court to replace Justice Scalia, we can kiss the Second Amendment good-bye.  

GIGOT:  As an individual right.  

TARANTO:  Right.  

GIGOT:  They'll say it's still for the right bear arms in militias but just not individually.

TARANTO:  And it will be protected in a lot of state constitutions, but still that was an importance try, advancing jurisprudence that would go away.  

GIGOT:  So, Republicans, do you agree with the Republican calculation that they should not vote on Garland, even if perhaps they might get somebody more liberal under the next president?  

TARANTO:  If the next president is Mrs. Clinton, I think they should go ahead and confirm Garland after the election.

But I want to go back to what Senator McConnell said about the Biden Rule.  The Biden Rule is, in 1992, Joe Biden, when Justice Blackman was rumored to be retired, Joe Biden said we shouldn't have any confirmation hearings during an election year.  Now, this was a replacement of the earlier Biden practice, which he did in 1987 and 1991, when, as now, the balance of the court was at stake.  Biden was chairman of the Judiciary Committee.  What the Judiciary Committee did, it held confirmation hearings and just waged vicious campaigns of character assassination against Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.  The Republicans are not doing that now.  They're just not holding any hearings.  And Merrick Garland, by all accounts, is a decent man.  He doesn't deserve that treatment any more than Bork and Thomas did.  

GIGOT:  And he's well qualified, no doubt about it.  But if you did have hearings, inevitably, you're saying, there could be a vicious fight politically, whether or not the Senators would want to do it.  It would be outside groups that would come in and do the dirty work?  

TARANTO:  The alternative would be the Republicans surrendering, saying you can change the balance of the court anytime you want, but we can't.  

GIGOT:  Dan, the politics of this, people in the media saying Republicans will pay a price for this opposition.  Do you agree?  

HENNINGER:  I completely disagree with that idea.  I think James is right.  If they were to simply go ahead and say to the Democrats, you want to change the composition of the court, 5-4, that's the way it falls, the Republican Party would implode.  I mean, this is such a voting issue for Republicans.  

To the politics, I don't think it's a big voting issue for most Democrats.  It is for the activists.  But out there in the country, the Supreme Court is not the thing foremost in their mind.  Mainly what they're concerned about is federal spending for groups and things like that.  But for the Republicans, the base, the sort of thing that Colin was talking about, is extremely important.  They would say home in the Republicans caved on this.  

GIGOT:  Colin, do you agree with James that if the Republicans lose the presidential race, Hillary Clinton becomes the next president, that the Republicans should confirm Garland in the lame-duck session after the election?  

LEVY:  Sure, that makes perfect sense.  President Obama says that's who he wants, and Republicans have said, if Hillary Clinton wins, we'll go with what a Democrat wants, and I think that would be a perfect reasonable way to proceed.  

GIGOT:  And the politics, do you think it cuts the same way Dan says?  

TARANTO:  I think it probably cuts both ways.  But it cuts both ways anyway.  I expect the results of the Republicans not holding hearings is we'll hear about this it for a week or so, then hear little about it until November.  GIGOT:  Yeah.

All right, thank you all.  

When we come back, so much for the quagmire President Obama predicted.  After just six months, Russia begins pulling its troops out of the Syria. What did Vladimir Putin accomplish?  And what is the next move?  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire, and it won't work.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT:  Well, so much for that quagmire.  In a surprise move, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced this week that he's ordered his military to start withdrawing the main part of its forces from Syria, saying that after just six months his troops largely achieved the combat goals.  

Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens, joins us with more.  

So, Bret, how do you read this withdrawal from Putin?  Has he achieved what he wanted?  

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST:  It's a master stroke by Putin.  He achieved exactly what he wanted.  When Russian planes and troops went into Syria last summer, it looked like the Assad regime was very close to collapse.  He managed to transform the battlefield equation.  The Assad regime is now basically -- has been shored up.  It doesn't look like it's going to fall any time soon.  The rebels are on the defensive.  Russia has enhanced its military prestige.  Putin has enhanced his political prestige.  
And now he's getting out with very few, if any, casualties.  And his reputation burnished all the way from Tehran to Washington.  So he has proved President Obama exactly wrong while showing that military power can change the facts on the ground.  

GIGOT:  You were in a meeting with me this week with those of us on the editorial page, with Gary Kasparov, the Russian opposition leader, former chess champion.  And he took a different view of this in saying he thinks his withdrawal is a sign of Putin's weakness, that he wanted to avoid taking casualties, that the intervention in Syria was becoming less popular in Russia, and he wanted to avoid getting further drawn in.  How do you respond to that?  

STEPHENS:  I think he's mistaken.  Obviously, Kasparov is someone always to be taken very seriously for his insight and his great intelligence.

GIGOT:  Courage.

STEPHENS:  And his courage.  But it seems to me that Putin was able to get out with everything pretty much intact.  

Also, I think there's no question that Putin did want a time-limited intervention.  The Russian economy is under stress.  This was costing them some amount of money.  And there was always the risk that there could be an incident, like when the Russian planes were shot down by Turkey.  I think there was some fear of what the Turks might do.  But right now, this looks like, from a Russian point of view, a very clean intervention, a very clean exit for a clear goal that he's achieved.  

GIGOT:  Now, one of the other goals that I thought Putin was going for is the -- is to get Europe and United States to ease its sanctions for coming into -- for his invasion of Ukraine.  And do you think that maybe by pulling out here he hopes to say, maybe induce President Obama and Angela Merkel of Germany to say, OK, this gesture by Putin makes it easier for us to ease sanctions and have a reset of Russian relations.  Once again, before President Obama leaves office.  

STEPHENS:  Right.  That he is -- he gives the impression he's not a rogue leader, but that he's a responsible leader, seeking a kind of global stability, a man who is willing to step into the breach in the Middle East, a man that the West can do business with.  And quite frankly, you see it with John Kerry's visits to meet with President Putin, with Russia's deep involvement in almost every single diplomatic question.  So I think there's almost no doubt that, at some point, the Europeans are going to say, why do we continue to sanction the Russians at some cost to our own economy?  

GIGOT:  And the Iran sanctions.  Russia vetoed sanctions against Iran this week after Iran fired ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear weapon, in violation of the recent nuclear deal.  But there will be no sanctions at the U.N., and the U.S. can't do much about that, can it?  

STEPHENS:  No, that's right.  Because of the foolish way in which John Kerry engineered the restrictions on ballistic missiles, putting it in the hands of the United Nations, where Russia wields a veto.  

But, look, Moscow now has a new BFF in the Middle East.  That's Tehran.  They're consolidating a relationship.  By the way, Moscow is looking to be selling about $8 billion worth of arms, sophisticated arms to Iran.  And one of the things that this intervention in Syria did is showcase the sophistication of Russian military equipment.  

GIGOT:  So briefly, Dan, President Obama visiting Cuba this coming week, historic visit, first since the revolution in 1959.  Has anything changed in Cuba since the president's rapprochement?  

HENNINGER:  Yes, it has.  Life has gotten worse for the dissidents there.  The Wall Street Journal had an article about this, this week.  More people are being arrested, and more sent out of Cuba who have opposed the Cuban regime.  

GIGOT:  Dan, Brett, thanks very much.  

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Kim, start us off.  

STRASSEL:  Paul, a miss to attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who last week told the Senate that she had referred a request to the FBI that it look into prosecuting criminally any groups that disagree with the left's agenda on climate science.  This has become a big, fashionable thing for guys like Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who are unable to convince the public of the science and their cause.  So now it's suggesting it be better to throw his ideological opponents in jail.  My own suggestion to Ms. Lynch is maybe she could devote more of her time into just figuring out what happened with Hillary Clinton's server.  

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT:  OK.  

James Taranto?  

TARANTO:  Paul, this is a story of the sinister side of political correctness.  A miss to the University of New Orleans, where the chief justice of the student government has put out instructions for right-handed people to check their privilege.  Here's what he writes for us North Paws.  Quote, "Don't try to silence a left-handed person who complains about scissors hurting their hand or how uncomfortable school desks are to sit in or the struggle of having dirty hands from writing in pencil."  

GIGOT:  There's no censorship, I want you to know among upper left-handed people at The Journal.

Dan?  

HENNINGER:  Heavens no.  

(LAUGHTER)

My miss is about pigeons flying overhead, so stay alert.  

(LAUGHTER)

In London, they are attaching tiny little electronic backpacks to the backs of a flock of pigeons, and these pigeons are supposed to fly around London, detecting air pollution levels, nitrogen oxide and so forth.  The idea of using pigeons to detect pollution brings a lot of thoughts to mind.  I think I'm just going to leave it at that.  

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT:  James?  

FREEMAN:  Well, this is coming through the lens of my North Paw privilege.  

(LAUGHTER)

But a hit to the Yale Bulldogs.  First win ever in the NCAA basketball tournament this week.  Their first appearance since John F. Kennedy was president.  

GIGOT:  Wow.

FREEMAN:  So now the school that invented football also having some success on the hardwood is a pretty good week.  

GIGOT:  Shameless alma mater plug.  Are they going to win -- beat Duke?  

FREEMAN:  Just a few hours away, they tip off.  And former colleague, Kyle Wanefield (ph), is calling it the Insufferability Bowl.  

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT:  And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, please tweet it to us on JER on FNC.  

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.  

END

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