This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 11, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Rick Santorum's three-state sweep on the GOP again. Can he build on his momentum in the states ahead? What is Mitt Romney's comeback strategy?

Plus, the furor over President Obama's birth control mandate. Religious freedom clashes with feminist politics. We'll tell you why religion is losing.

And growing trouble in the Middle East, as Syria sinks deeper into chaos and Egypt brings charges against American pro democracy workers. How should the U.S. respond?


RICK SANTORUM, R- FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the great gifts I've had in my political career is that no one ever thinks that I could ever win anything.


The gift of being underestimated is a wonderful gift and I think we might have seen a little bit of that last night.


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

That was Republican Candidate Rick Santorum after his stunning sweep of Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. The former Pennsylvania Senator upended the Republican race once again and highlighted the weakness of the presumed frontrunner, Mitt Romney. But can Santorum build on his momentum in the weeks ahead.

Let's ask, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz.

And, Dan, how big of a threat to Mitt Romney is Rick Santorum?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think it's a significant threat. Once again, a problem of traction for Romney. Conservative voters are looking for another person, obviously, that's been the story from the beginning is the one candidate after another rose and fall. And Rick Santorum, when he finally got from stage left to stage center, is showing that he is a formidable political debater and fighter. And I think the problem for Romney is that he could continue to erode his support. I don't know if he can defeat Romney. I think he's in the game, got a shot, but Mitt Romney has shown himself, other than dumping negative advertising on opponents like Newt Gingrich, not to be very good at responding in kind to the kind of criticisms that Santorum is level at him.

GIGOT: Dorothy, will Santorum -- why do you think Santorum would do better now than Gingrich did when he went one-on-one against Romney? What are Santorum's strengths that would allow him to be a more formidable competitor?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: The fact that he hasn't had the dumping of negative advertising on him. There's a problem. The people who -- if you look at him in that victory speech which he delivered the other night, you saw a very different Santorum, and you said to yourself. If only he could be this person, ebullient, cheerful and very incisive, excellent speaker.

GIGOT: If he can do it on that evening, why can't he do it other times?

RABINOWITZ: Because he carries with him a history that would, compared to Newt Gingrich, if Newt Gingrich had eight marriages, it wouldn't equal this kind of --


GIGOT: What are you talking about the social issues?

RABINOWITZ: I'm talking a list of quotes that are deeply felt. Let me give you the first one that comes to mind. He appears in New Hampshire and says to a group, you know, I saw, I read John F. Kennedy's 1960's speech on absolute separation of church and state and, you know what, I wanted to vomit when I read that. Because this was the beginning of the secularization. This.

GIGOT: OK, you're saying this social cultural issue, that's a big liability for him?


GIGOT: But wait a minute. It's carrying him right now.


GIGOT: He did well in Iowa because of it. He won in Missouri because of it, in Minnesota because of it. And in Colorado his vote was bigger frankly than the social conservative base. That's an asset.

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: It is an asset right now among certain segments of the GOP. But, Dorothy's got a point. Rick Santorum's distinguished himself politically as a social conservative. The question, can he bring in other parts of the GOP coalition, the free market, as well as the defense and so forth. And you need all three stools of the leg to make this work and, the question is, does Rick Santorum? We'll find out if Rick Santorum has staying power in upcoming contests in Arizona and Michigan, because that's where Romney will actually be contesting. One of the reasons he did so well this week is because, let's face it, Romney did not spend a lot of times in the states. Santorum had a lot of face time and then --


GIGOT: Dan, Rick Santorum called me this week after our editorial. he says, look, you've got it wrong. My message is broader than social conservative. I start with freedom. I start with the economic context we're in. My social message is crucial. But it's only part of that. Were we unfair to Santorum?

HENNINGER: I don't believe so, because he hasn't really emphasized the things he was describing to you, up until this point. He's been running mainly as a social conservative, and the family values guy. But, what we're describing here or trying to describe is politics at a very high level. But the politician is going to compete for the presidency of the United States and they have to be adept. They have to be able to adjust. They have to change their game plan. and the question is whether Rick Santorum has the political skills to do that. I suspect that he does. He's a very smart guy. He's been in politics for a long time and he knows the issues. It's going to be really interesting to see in the primaries ahead what kind of game plan he runs.

GIGOT: Let me give you another, Dorothy, a question. I think that Santorum, one of his major assets, there's nobody who doubts he believes what he says, all right? That's a very different thing when they look at Mitt Romney. People do doubt whether he means what he says. With Santorum, they say, you know what? I think this guy is going to do what he says.

RABINOWITZ: But, Paul, they say the same thing about Ron Paul. Look at how consistent he is.


GIGOT: Yes, but Ron Paul, he's out there on so many issues and Santorum --


RABINOWITZ: He believes these things and let me say it's not an inclusive message to continue to say -- and this is not going to be lying hidden forever in the states that he ran.

GIGOT: Could it win him the Republican nomination? That's what we're talking about here the first order of business.

RABINOWITZ: I don't think so.

RILEY: No. I don't think it's enough to win him the nomination. It is enough, however, to make Romney very crippled, bloodied nominee when he comes around.

GIGOT: So Romney just -- the same issue keeps coming up. He can't win over the conservative populace wing, the Tea Partiers, the socialist, the people who aren't part of the main line Republican Party. And why not?

RILEY: He's running as a competent manager. It's not the most inspiring message. And I will say this about Santorum, his victory speech the other night, I liked what he said there. He went after Obama as an elitist. He said this guy thinks he's smarter than you. I think that's a much more effective message than what Romney has been saying. He's been saying, Obama is in over his head. I think that Obama's vulnerability here is arrogance not ignorance. and I think that Santorum a sending the right message, particularly in the heartland, I think that will resonate.

GIGOT: We're going to be watching.

Thanks, Jason.

When we come back, backlash over President Obama's birth control mandate leaves the administration scrambling for a compromise. Has the damage with Catholic voters already been done?



PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is an issue where people of goodwill on both sides of the debate have been sorting through complicated questions to find a solution that works for everyone. With today's announcement we've done that. Religious liberty will be protected and a law that requires free preventative care will not discriminate against women.


GIGOT: Whatever you do, don't call it a compromise. But after enduring another week of bitter backlash over its mandate requiring religious employers, including hospitals and universities, to cover birth control, including the morning-after bill, in their health care plans, the White House on Friday announced what it calls an accommodation to require insurers to pay direction for women's contraception if an employer rejects doing so on religious grounds. Will church leaders go for it and has the political damage already been done?

We're back with Dan Henninger and Dorothy Rabinowitz. And Wall Street Journal columnist, Bill McGurn joins the panel.

And this was turning into a political disaster for the administration. Let's deal with the substance first. Does this solve the religious liberty problem?

BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Not really. It expands it in a way. To paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, We had to enforce this bill to point out what's in it.


They're telling us, if you're a Catholic diocese, you don't offer in your plan, they say, OK, what happens is your insurer will offer the plan. It will offer it free to --

GIGOT: They must offer it.

MCGURN: They must offer it and it will be free and you won't be paying for it. I don't understand the heavenly economics.

GIGOT: It's the Immaculate Contraception.


Dan, what kind of economic world is there where somehow it's free. If you don't pay for it, nobody will pay. Won't the premiums for the insurance go up over time that the religious institutions will end up having to pay?

HENNINGER: I can't imagine anyone out there absorbing this news can sit there and be saying, this coverage will be free for people rather than -- what world does this belong in. This is the world of Washington, Paul. If there's one issue out in the presidential campaign that everyone seems to agree on, is that Washington is a mess and doesn't work and the things at that Washington does won't work. This is a textbook example of why Washington performed so poorly. They get an idea in their head and they decide they're just going to cram it through the system regardless of the economics, and indeed, in this case, regardless of the politics. And this is going to be litigated and, right.


HENNINGER: And the politics is not going to go away. It's just going to grind on. And people are going to see another example of a system that is dysfunctional.

GIGOT: If you're a religious institution, can you, in good conscience, say now, this doesn't intrude on --


MCGURN: No, it's not telling people, it's just a burden to someone else.

GIGOT: It's indirection. It's a third party payment issue.

MCGURN: Right. It's -- my inner Ron Paul.


I feel like, why are we federal mandates and unelected czars and why can't we call the constitution and equalize the tax code and solve the problems.

RABINOWITZ: But this is like the health care package. You don't know what's in the health care bill. It's more than Washington. This is really a view of the administration that's an exceptional clear picture. You know, the totalitarian mindset comes in many forms. You could see it. Everything leading up to this moment, in the past few weeks say, look, we're not doing what you think we're doing. And I see before me the picture of David Axelrod whining.

GIGOT: The chief -- former White House political advisor.


GIGOT: Now campaign advisor.

RABINOWITZ: Yes. On the air as soon as the flack began to hit on the air, last week saying, how could we be doing this to Catholics? The denial of the reality is there every day, including at today's conference.

GIGOT: Press conference call.


RABINOWITZ: Press conference call. And you listen to a representation of the administration saying, we planned this all along, this day, this compromise in the face of all truth. This has nothing to do with what happened to us in the last --

(CROSSTALK) GIGOT: Directly contradicting previous --


GIGOT: -- the previous conference call they gave when the rule had been made final.

But, Dorothy, let's talk about the politics. Is this going to solve the political problem for the administration with Catholics?

RABINOWITZ: Here it is. As Catholics, who were inclined to say, OK, let's accept this, but there is a bitterness about this moment that I think is permanent and enduring, because you cannot say to people, we are not doing this to you and go ahead and do it. The fact is that this tone, we can tell what you we're going to do, we can say two and two equals five, and we believe in our ideological bubble that you'll accept it.

GIGOT: Some of the Catholic left, Bill, are saying, finally, you know, no damage to political liberty here.

MCGURN: He's captured back some of the people that have very large doubts about the pope, but have perfect faith in the infallibility of the government to make the decisions.


And they wanted a fig leaf. And Sister Carol of the Catholic Health Care Further Association has already celebrated this thing. Further, to Dorothy's point, money is a situation a little bit. It widens the question about conscious rights for individuals, not Catholic institutions. And it leaves a lot of Catholics maybe in the middle with the impression that Obama dislikes their church and is at war with them.

GIGOT: And what about the bishops, Dan, because they have lead the opposition to this? Their response so far has been muted. Where do you think they'll come out?

HENNINGER: I think that's hard to predict. They were very angry about this. I think what the bishops understood finally, and what I think you're going to hear a lot more of now, is that there was a mandate to force them to do something to meet this. Now, Obama-care, this health care plan, was something the president didn't want to talk about. I think the presidential candidates now have a hook to explain the nature of the mandate beneath the Obama health care law.

GIGOT: The basic problem is this is what happens when you have government health care. Some higher authority in Washington -- I've got to go, folks -- is going to determine who gets covered and how much.

When we come back, growing trouble in the Middle East as 19 Americans face trial in Egypt, and Syria sinks deeper into civil war. How does the Obama administration respond?


GIGOT: Trouble is brewing across the Middle East for the Obama administration after Egyptian authorities announced 19 American pro democracy workers, including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, would face trial. This, as Syria sinks deeper into civil war, with forces loyal to President Bashar Assad continuing its assault on the opposition strong hold of Homs.

Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Matt Kaminski, joins us with more.

Is it fair to call them hostages? They can't leave the country.

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Sure, they can't leave because they're being held under fairly transparently illegitimate act by the government. I think the bigger picture here is Egypt is in the middle of a mess transition. They have to write the constitution still, they just seated a parliament. The military has to blame someone for the problem they're been having. They forget there's a lot of nationalist Achilles in Egypt, going back to Nasser.

GIGOT: This is not something that the Muslim Brotherhood is doing?


GIGOT: This is the military government that's doing this, a government that's gotten billions in aid.


HENNINGER: But the State Department is putting out that it may not be the military government that's doing it.

GIGOT: Well, who's doing it?

HENNINGER: The interior ministry, (INAUDIBLE), who is a former Mubarak associate, is the one who apparently has been driving this. And that's part of the problem. It's not clear who's responsible for grabbing these people and who we should be negotiating with, because Egypt is in such a state of political --


GIGOT: But if the military wanted it to go away, it could go away.

KAMINSKI: The military is responsible for this. The military runs the country. And the problem with the Muslim Brotherhood they haven't said anything about this, they're trying to get a deal for the military for the military to hand over power to them. And the Muslim Brotherhood got training from, including Sam LaHood's group, on how to be a more Democratic and better campaign, you know, group.

GIGOT: We can't -- the United States provides about a billion and a half dollars a year, much of that military aid. Will we be able to sustain that if this case does go to trial and Americans end up in jail?

KAMINSKI: There's going to be problems on the Hill almost immediately.

GIGOT: Capitol Hill.

KAMINSKI: To Dan's point, I think what the State Department put out is a very worrying signal that they're trying to -- they may blink here, that the U.S. may blink and say, OK, we'll pull out our democracy promotion help in Egypt and let's try and make this problem go away. I think there's a way to deescalate that we shouldn't give up on trying to push Egypt toward being a more open and democratic place.

GIGOT: These Americans arrested, are doing what Americans do all across the world at different countries through these non-government organizations. This is hardly radical stuff.

KAMINSKI: Right. They help --

GIGOT: Free press, yes.

KAMINSKI: -- the parties how to organize, all parties.

GIGOT: All right, this is a messy business. Let's talk about Syria. The administration seemed caught by surprise and the Russia and the Chinese veto at the United Nations and Bashar Assad has taken the veto, it looks like this week, as an invitation to escalate against the opposition. What should the U.S. have been surprised?

KAMINSKI: Of course not. I think the Russians signaled early on throughout the last few weeks, they are not going to give up on the last Arab ally, especially Assad, especially at a time that in Russia itself Vladimir Putin is facing his own popular uprising.

GIGOT: Don't want any ugly precedence for --


GIGOT: What can the United States do, Dan? I saw Secretary of State Clinton issued a statement calling it a travesty and hinting maybe the United States needs to go outside of the United Nations, which is something, you know, the dastardly Bush administration would have done?

HENNINGER: Yes, even the United Nations said let's get past the politics for this thing and do something effective, almost suggesting that she's inviting the military action. The problem is, I don't think the Libyan solution is going to happen here, because that was based on a U.N. Security Council resolution and any effective --


GIGOT: Are you saying that because the administration will not want to do something like that without a U.N. resolution or because it's just not possible as a practical level?

HENNINGER: I think Barack Obama, having announced that he's pulling out of Afghanistan, is not going to send American troops into Syria before the November elections. He's just not going to go there.

KAMINSKI: But he may have no choice because Turkey is pushing for some kind of intervention. I wouldn't rule out a no-fly zone. There's now a lot of talk about arming the opposition groups because it's really getting out of control there.

GIGOT: Thanks, Matt.

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


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

Jason, first to you.

RILEY: I'd like to give a hit to the Obama administration for looking into complaints that Harvard and Princeton are discriminating and Asians student applicants. Asians are already over-represented on their campuses. This is akin to what happened to the Jews in the 21st century and it's a reminder of what happens with affirmative action policies, when you try to discriminate in favor of some groups, like blacks and Hispanics, who inevitably end up discriminating against other groups.

GIGOT: You mean overrepresented in terms of the population in general?

RILEY: Yes. Yes.

GIGOT: There's more of them than in the general population.


KAMINSKI: A hit to the people of Moscow who earlier this week came out in the tens of thousands in arctic weather to protest against Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime. Putin's probably going to win, almost certainly is going to win elections in March but something has truly changed in Russia. And I think this bodes for possibly a more open and pluralistic Russia in months and years to come.

GIGOT: The next 20 years or no?

KAMINSKI: I think earlier. I think there's been a real revelation, in Russia itself.

GIGOT: Bill?

MCGURN: Paul, we're batting a thousand here. I have a hit for a federal judge in San Francisco, Susan Nielsen, for allowing Barry Bonds to keep his baseball bats. You probably remember he was convicted last year, of lying last year about a steroids investigation. He got two years probation for that. Normally on probation, you're not allowed to have weapons or things called destructive devices, which can include baseball bats for those people. But this judge made a common-sense exception for Mr. Bonds that allows him to keep the lumber.


And it's a rare bust of common sense. I say the judge hits a home run for this one, not just a hit.


GIGOT: Boy, Bill, thanks.

Remember if you have your own "Hit or Miss, please send it to us at FOXnews.com. And visit us on the web at FOXnews.com/journal.

That's it for all of us here. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I am Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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