Obama's Supreme Court warning a preview of what's to come?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 7, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," President Obama's Supreme Court warning. Was this week's attack a preview of what's to come if ObamaCare goes down?

Plus, as Mitt Romney notches three more wins, calls grow for Rick Santorum to exit the Republican race. Should he do it before his home state primary?

And the budget battle is joined as the president ties Mitt Romney to Paul Ryan's plan. Could it hurt the Republicans in November?


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ultimately, I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.


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

Those words set off a firestorm this week, with many seeing President Obama's comments on the Supreme Court as a warning to the justices that they will pay a political price if they strike down all or part of his signature health care law. Liberals claim that no less than the legitimacy of the Supreme Court is at stake. So was this a preview of their campaign strategy if ObamaCare is overturned?

Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, assistant editorial page editor James Freeman, and editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz.

So Dan, President Obama is known for choosing his words carefully, doesn't speak -- usually doesn't say what he doesn't mean. So what was he trying to do? Was he trying to lobby the Supreme Court?

DANIEL HENNINGER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I agree he doesn't say what he doesn't mean. He is a belief (ph) politician. And I think what happened here is what we sometimes call a Freudian slip, in which someone inadvertently says something they actually believe. Yes, he understands Marbury versus Madison, but Barack Obama...

GIGOT: That's the case that set in place judicial review.

HENNINGER: Yes. All right. But Barack Obama is a belief politician, and he believes he's a great charismatic national leader leading large masses of people. He's that kind of leader.

And I think what he was saying here is that, I have the democratically elected Congress behind me. I have this large mass of people. And you have to be aware of that. And it was a catastrophe when he said it. I can't see that he was lobbying the court because the crackback (ph) even among liberals was overwhelming. This was a statement of his belief about the court being subordinate to the legislature and his legislation.

GIGOT: But did he think, James, that this could actually help with the Supreme Court, maybe push them in the direction he wants them to go? That doesn't strike me as plausible.

JAMES FREEMAN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Only if he believes that Justice Anthony Kennedy can be intimidated into joining the side to affirm the law. As we kind of puzzle over what he meant by this, I think one thing you can say for certain is that this was someone who looked at the oral arguments and decided his side had lost because it was not the sound of a winner, saying, well, we'll let the court do its work, and we had a nice exposition of the views.

But this -- this idea that he doesn't know or seems not to know that for more than 200 years, the Supreme Court has been able to decide whether laws passed by Congress and signed by the president are constitutional? It's kind of amazing. He was a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago, president of the Harvard Law Review!

GIGOT: All right, let's listen to Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, defend the president's statement.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In speaking on Monday, the president was not clearly understood by some people because he is a law professor. He spoke in shorthand.

The president believes that the Supreme Court has the final word on matters of judicial review, on the constitutionality of legislation. He would, having been a professor of law.


GIGOT: Dorothy, were you persuaded?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Persuaded. They have this secondary form of demagoguery, next to the president. First of all, the president is in this speech is credited by Jay Carney with not being understood. So whose fault is it? It's the masses, the rest of us, the ignoramuses who didn't perceive the depth...


RABINOWITZ: ... of this argument being put forward to us. Mr. Carney has had a long and somewhat more normal (ph) a troubled history in his (ph), and you can't blame him. This is what happens.

But this was a most extraordinary problem. You had the words of the president, unprecedented. You can't erase them from memory. And Jay Carney explaining it was all OK.

GIGOT: But is -- is -- if the president goes in this direction -- let's say the court does overturn part or all of the law, and if the president goes in this direction of making the Supreme Court a campaign issue, is that smart politics? Can it work?

RABINOWITZ: No, it can't, but he's already done that. You know, he's in this...

GIGOT: Well, he set it up, but he could back away from it. And he could -- he could accept any decision and say, Well, look, this is the law. We'll now move on.

RABINOWITZ: The president does not care about what he can and cannot do. It will not be effective politically. But he does have this feeling that he's focused on the masses who are his and only his. The enemy is out there.

And you have to remember, there was a time when the president or somebody we used to call an object of our Rorschach test (ph) -- he could be anything. We know a very different man now, the one who has declared war, us against them, us against the evil empire. And that confidence that's in him is going to carry him along and...


HENNINGER: ... very much become an issue in the election. The Supreme Court is almost inevitably an issue in every presidential election. And let's not kid ourselves. There is a division of belief among conservatives liberals over -- over the law in this country. And it isn't always reflected in Supreme Court decisions, but on this sort of thing, it is.

And I would expect the president to indeed go out, and in his way, say, Give me the authority over the next four years to replace a couple of these conservatives and get a court more in line with the beliefs of the American people.

GIGOT: Well...

HENNINGER: We've been having that argument for a long time.

GIGOT: And if ObamaCare goes down, his base is going to be very demoralized because this is his central liberal achievement, and if that is overturned, even if it's in part, there's going to be a lot of liberals who are saying, Well, what else has this administration done for us? And then they're going to need to be fired up, and what better way to fire them up than to say, Let's make the Supreme Court an issue?

FREEMAN: I think that's right. But it is a little bit of a wild card. Pollsters Scott Rasmussen visited us recently, and he said he thinks Obama would actually benefit from the law getting knocked down because it would take the air out of the opposition and it would give him more freedom to talk about health care. Right now, he's kind of bound to what they enacted.

I tend to think if your signature achievement goes down, independents aren't thinking you've done a fabulous job, so probably negative.

GIGOT: All right, we've got to leave it right there.

When we come back, Mitt Romney's triple sweep on Tuesday leaves little doubt as to who will capture the Republican nomination, but how much damage has been done along the way?


GIGOT: A triple win Tuesday in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., put Mitt Romney closer to the Republican presidential nomination and only increased calls for rival Rick Santorum to leave the race. But with the Pennsylvania primary just over two weeks away, should Santorum hang on? And can he count on a home state win?

So James, you've thought that Santorum had a shot maybe more than some of the rest of us have. Does he still have a realistic chance at the nomination?

FREEMAN: Well, I think the -- the argument for him to stay in would be that despite a lot of...

GIGOT: That's not the question I asked, but...


FREEMAN: No, I think it's a possibility because I think what you've seen is that his hard core is staying with him. And also in Wisconsin, after basically, the entire media had said it's over and then Romney got the big Paul Ryan endorsement, it was still a fairly close election and so -- a fairly close primary.

And so I think if you're Santorum, you're saying, if I can just get through this month, I'm going to pick up a lot of delegates in May. That's going to be a very good month for him. He's got Texas. He's got North Carolina. He's got West Virginia, Indiana.

So I think the road map is improving for him and people are hanging with him. I think he might say, Let's keep going.

GIGOT: But if you look at the Wisconsin exit polls, it shows that Mitt Romney has carved into Santorum's support among Tea Party people, as well as even those who are self-described conservatives, Dorothy. So the claim that Santorum wants to make, that it's a conservative versus a moderate isn't holding up as the -- as the primaries move on.

RABINOWITZ: That's right. And what's not holding up is any hope of doing anything about the gender gap, which if Santorum is the candidate -- and whose dreams, you know, we can sustain that hope...


RABINOWITZ: ... it's all done for, you know? And so I think that these are really serious (INAUDIBLE) Yes, damage has been done. On the other hand, Mitt Romney has come out looking a lot better than -- most of the time now because of these recent wins. I think if Santorum doesn't leave, it will be major trouble.

GIGOT: Should he leave before Pennsylvania, Dan?

HENNINGER: Paul, there's a lot of wisdom, common man wisdom in country and western music, and there's a famous song, "You got to know when to hold 'em and you got to know when to fold 'em." And I think it's time for Rick Santorum to fold 'em.

Look, he's run an excellent campaign. He's run a good campaign after coming from nowhere. I think he made Mitt Romney a better candidate. And I think he has a future as a voice within the party, maybe even a position in a Romney administration.

I think if he goes forward, he's going to marginalize himself, and at some point, he ends up outside the party. And going forward, I don't think that's where Rick Santorum -- like Ron Paul, a marginal figure, and I don't think that's where he would like to end up.

GIGOT: He doesn't want to lose his home state, too. That would be -- that would be an embarrassment.

HENNINGER: It would ruin him.

GIGOT: Dorothy, what about Mitt Romney? You said he looks -- he's looking...


GIGOT: ... better. But here's the -- here's the issue I want to pose to you. Look, you look at the independents favor -- look at Romney's favorable and unfavorable. The recent polls have his favorables up at 50 percent -- I mean, unfavorable at 50 percent, favorable at mid-30s. That's very rarefied, unfortunate territory for a nominee of a major party. In fact, I can't remember somebody with those kinds of unfavorables at this stage in a race.

RABINOWITZ: Well, you know, it's not encouraging. No one would dispute that. On the other hand, when you've got your sea legs, as Mitt Romney seems to have had actually for the last two or three outings -- he's got, obviously, either a new speech writer or a new confidence, one or another. But he was indisputably eloquent and forthright in his speech. And you have the feeling that this is continuum, that he could go on. Things change rapidly. You can become a better candidate.

And also, people make allowances for the terrors of the primary. They're facing the leader of the party now. No one is going to be sitting home among the Republicans at this election.

GIGOT: Well, that raises the question -- and Dorothy makes a case that he can get over this -- but is -- how much damage has the primary process done to Romney's chances in November?

FREEMAN: None. It's...

GIGOT: None?

FREEMAN: ... really improving...

GIGOT: None?

FREEMAN: First of all, this unfavorable thing -- if he had wrapped it up earlier, it would have been the barrage of ads from Democratic organizations attacking him for the crime of committing capitalism and attacking him as Mr. 1 percent...

GIGOT: You don't think those are still coming?


FREEMAN: They're coming, but I'm saying that I don't think he would have been enjoying three months of honeymoon here and a pass from the media if he had wrapped it up early.

I also think you look at this strong primary challenge, what has it done for him? He's pushed forward now a pro-growth tax plan. He's now fully endorsed entitlement reform. This guy is getting better and better, you know? If the fight continues into the summer, who knows? Maybe he'll be for a flat tax.

GIGOT: His instinct was to -- I think that's optimistic, but his instinct is to run as a biographical candidate -- I'm a businessman, and so on. I think that James has a really good point, which is that he has been forced by this process to run as more of an agent of change.

HENNINGER: Exactly. "By this process" means by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. I mean, he was running as a kind of Casper the friendly ghost candidate, where it was just gauzy and...


GIGOT: No, he had a 59-point economic plan!


GIGOT: Remember that last Labor Day? Dorothy remembers every one of them.


HENNINGER: ... the variability in Romney's political persona, and that has become much more coherent and substantive and clear. And I agree with Dorothy, he now has the basis to go forward in a much stronger way. I think he can come back from that 35 percent unfavorable (sic).

RABINOWITZ: Happiness (ph) can take you a long way, and that's what happened.

GIGOT: The optimism. But I will tell you this. The Hispanic vote, also -- he's under 20 percent in support among Hispanics, and that's in part because of his immigration position, and he has to do something about that in the general.

Still ahead, Mitt Romney isn't the only Republican that President Obama has his sights on. Democrats think linking him to Paul Ryan and his budget plan could be a winning campaign strategy. Are they right?



OBAMA: This congressional Republican budget is something different altogether. It is a Trojan horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism.


GIGOT: Well, fresh off Monday's assault on the Supreme Court, President Obama Tuesday rolled out what is sure to be another prime target in the fall campaign, Paul Ryan's budget. The president ripped the Wisconsin Republican's plan, painting it as a series of cruel spending cuts aimed at seniors, students and the sick. The president even criticized Mitt Romney by name for embracing the budget blueprint. But will tying Romney to Ryan work for Democrats in November?

We're back with Dan Henninger and James Freeman. Also joining the panel, Wall Street journal columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady.

Well, the old Darwin ploy, Mary. I mean, we bring out the 19th century here.


GIGOT: Is Paul Ryan the Achilles heel of -- of -- for Mitt Romney? Is that his real vulnerability?

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, of course, this is classic Obama, this demagoguing everybody who is productive in the -- in this society. But I think, basically, what -- what -- I don't believe that Ryan is an Achilles heel. I think on the message, he has a better message to the American people.

I think this is all going to be about organizing, fund-raising, using the Web. The kinds of things that Obama excelled at in 2008, the Republicans are going to have to do that because, basically, it's a discussion between the debt and deficit and scaring grandma.

And if they don't get their message out there and somehow convince people that the Obama path means higher taxes and lower standards of living for the American people, they're not going to be able to do it. Scaring grandma is more powerful.

GIGOT: So Mary's basically saying Republicans should -- don't get lost in the weeds of whether your, you know, Down syndrome children and autistic children are going to be in the streets. Don't play on that ground with Obama. Let him make that caricature. But go fight back on debt and deficits and growth.

HENNINGER: I think, basically, they have to fight back on the condition of the economy. Look, Paul, that speech and the things that you just described, I -- not only is he going to run it on, I think it's a fairly potent strategy to run on.

GIGOT: It's aimed particularly at, I think, women...


GIGOT: ... because it plays to their financial...

HENNINGER: But here's...

GIGOT: ... fears of financial insecurity.

HENNINGER: Here's the irony, Paul. Barack Obama has presided over an economy with 8 percent unemployment, virtually little growth, bad unemployment numbers again this week, at least no job creation.

GIGOT: Mediocre, yes.

HENNINGER: We're living in age of anxiety and fear, and people are unsettled about the future. And what Obama is suggesting to them that, No matter what, I, the government, will be there to take care of you -- and I think under these conditions, that could have appeal to a lot of people if Romney doesn't give them a clear alternative.

GIGOT: This is the same linkage that a lot of Democrats were saying to -- linking Bob Dole in 1996 to Newt Gingrich. It's linking him to Congress.

But Paul Ryan isn't Newt Gingrich. First of all, people don't know who he is, most Americans still. We do. The people who cover politics do. But most people don't know who Ryan is.

FREEMAN: No, but they'll find out that he's not a -- this is not a Tea Party budget, and this is why unless Obama has an overwhelming financial advantage, which it looks like he probably won't, he's not going to be able to scare grandma because grandma's going to figure out that under the Ryan plan, her Social Security and her Medicare don't change. What he's talking about is future generations, gradual changes.

I mean, what the Tea Party would probably be upset about the Ryan plan for is it doesn't balance the budget sooner. It's a gradual process of reform.

GIGOT: It's interesting (ph). Ryan's plan's been criticized by some conservatives.

O'GRADY: But in some ways, that's a weakness because I think that he has to make this an immediate problem for people.

GIGOT: Who does, Ryan?

O'GRADY: Ryan does. I mean, I think saying, you know, Your grandchildren are going to be worse off -- I'm sorry, but I'm thinking about -- you know, most people are thinking about this year or the next five years or their retirement.

And I think he has to communicate that this -- the Obama path means higher taxes for middle class people not in 20 years, but soon, very soon. And that's something that the voters should want to avoid.

GIGOT: Well, we know that Ryan has the capacity to articulate the message and make the case. And he's done it on health care one on one with Obama, very effectively in that famous exchange in February of 2010. But what about Romney? Can he make a case?

O'GRADY: Well, he's -- he's definitely getting better. I mean, he has a new speech writer, apparently. I mean, made a couple of very good speeches in that direction, I think. But again, I think that organization and fund-raising...

GIGOT: Will trump message?

O'GRADY: ... is critical.

GIGOT: Will trump message?

O'GRADY: They have the message! They have the message. But they have to find a way to get it out there. The president has the bully pulpit, and that's going to make it very difficult for them.


HENNINGER: The president said one undeniable thing in that speech the other day, which is that in the coming year, we are going to have a debate, he said, about the size and role of government, a debate we've been having since our founding days.

That is what Paul Ryan says. And I think if Mitt Romney spends time with people like Paul Ryan -- and I would add Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels -- the party will get together and define and clarify its description of the proper role of government. And Romney, I think, is capable of carrying that forward.

GIGOT: All right, Dan, last word.

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


GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week. James, first to you.

FREEMAN: This is a hit to the president. Yes, kudos to President Barack Obama...


FREEMAN: ... for on Thursday signing the Jobs Act. It's going to make it easier for young innovative companies to come to the public markets, grow to raise capital. It's a win for America.

GIGOT: And a win for Freeman, I might add, who's been writing editorials about this for two or three years. All right, Mary.

O'GRADY: This is a hit for Landon (ph) Crabtree from Manchester, Tennessee, whose family was burglarized and they lost a couple of iPads, computers, some other electronic equipment. All the adults in the room thought the stuff was gone for good.

Little 8-year-old Landon went on line, downloaded an app designed to track iPads, and figured out that all of his family stuff and a lot more loot that had been stolen was all in a motel room about four miles from the house. They cracked the case and got the stuff back.

So the moral of the story is, if you're having problems with electronics, find an 8-year-old.


GIGOT: All right. Dan?

HENNINGER: Well, this is one of the holiest weekends of the year for many people, and I'm going to give a miss to the Arab spring for not doing a better job of protecting Christian minorities in that part of the world. When most (INAUDIBLE) event this weekend is the potential for bombing of Christian churches as has happened before in Egypt and Nigeria.

Christians and other sects have lived with Islam for thousands of years, and I think that many of these minority groups are going to become under more pressure in places like Syria and even Tunisia. And I would say it's going to be a benchmark of these Islamic governments' acceptance will be their treatment of these minorities in the Middle East.

GIGOT: What I want to know, James, is when did you and Obama have this mind meld on policy?

FREEMAN: It's exciting! I don't know how long the...


GIGOT: All right. Sounds good. That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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