The changing nature of the terror threat

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," May 9, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," a foiled attack in Texas shines a light on the changing nature on the terror threat here at home and ignites a fierce debate over the limits of free speech.

Plus, two newcomers and an old political pro all jump into the presidential race. A look at what these candidates bring to the GOP field.

And Hillary Clinton's transformation continues as she moves to the left of President Obama on immigration. Does the pivot carry risks for Republicans?

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

ISIS claimed responsibility this week for the thwarted assault for a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas and warned of more to come. The two gunmen died in last Sunday's shootout. And while intelligence officials continue to investigate their ties to Islamic groups, the attack shines a light on the changing nature of the terror threat in the United States and has ignited a heated debate over the limits of free speech.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz; and "Global View" columnist, Bret Stephens.

Bret, what does this tell us about the threat? Is it really expanding inside the United States through the use of social media that the terrorists are --


BRET STEPHENS, GLOBAL VIEW COLUMNIST: Yeah. It's networked. It's decentralized. It's self actualizing. ISIS is --


GIGOT: What do you mean by that?

STEPHENS: In the sense that basically anyone can join. There are no barriers to entries. Think of this as Linux in terms of software. Anyone can have part of the operating system so long as you pledge allegiance to the ideas. Previously, if you wanted to join al Qaeda, you had to travel to an al Qaeda safe haven, probably in northern Pakistan or Afghanistan.  Now all you have to do is get a gun, choose a target, and carry out an attack.

GIGOT: We have the FBI Director James Comey saying there are thousands of potential recruits in the United States who are accessing social media, terror sites, and could be inspired to act. Do you think that's overstating things?

STEPHENS: No, I don't think -- look, of the thousands, those who will actually tip over into committing a terrorist attack are probably few.  Then again, we were very lucky in this attack in Garland that you had those security officers, those police officers who were able to stop the attackers before they got into the center. We could have had a mass casualty event on our hands that probably would have dwarfed the attacks at Ft. Hood.

GIGOT: Dorothy, what about this event? In light of this threat, which Bret sums up well and is real, what about somebody like a Pam Geller, who sponsored this event in Texas, is this something that we ought to pursue?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Yeah, well, she's responsible for shining the light on exactly the perversion of ideological thinking in this country. Here is this event where would-be murderers come forward looking for a big body count to go and kill as many people as they can. At the end of the story, who is targeted as the criminal, the real criminal?  Pam Geller. This is really an astounding perversion.

GIGOT: What about the idea that, in fact, this is a provocation? That's the argument people make. Your friends on the left. Many of them, they argue people boycotted -- famous writers boycotted this week a dinner sponsored by Pan-America --


GIGOT:  -- that would have honored Charlie Hebdo --


GIGOT: -- on free speech grounds. They said they had provoked their own attack.

RABINOWITZ: Yeah. Do you know who else said they had provoked? Southern sheriffs during the '60s would tell people coming in to say that civil righters, you are the ones responsible for the bloodshed. This is very easy thing for this kind of marauding, self-righteousness. And the end of it all is that we now see what has happened here. We see this complete twisting of events. And let me tell you the number of great minds that have come out now to take just the position I just described.

GIGOT: Right.

RABINOWITZ: We have Donald Trump and The New York Times editorial board together at least.


GIGOT:  All right. Dan, but, what about Pam Geller's responsibility here?  We would not run those kinds of cartoons in our paper.


GIGOT: So what about -- other conservatives say, you know what, they have a right to free speech. Absolutely. Dorothy is exactly right about that.  But why do it, make it a needless provocation?


GIGOT: You wouldn't do that to the pope, for example.

HENNINGER: Right. Look, these principles, like free speech, are important. I would hope we could interject judgment into situations like this. What if that cop, instead of killing the two assailants, himself had been killed? OK? He's dead. And then they get inside and kill about 50 people. Are we supposed to sit here to say that Pam Geller is standing on her right to express this sort of thing even though 50 people are lying in pools of blood inside that building.

STEPHENS: I'm sorry, but we are supposed to do that. I mean --

HENNINGER: I disagree with that.

STEPHENS: This is -- we have a case in which liberals are forgetting about what it means to be a liberal. That means that we live in a country that means you have a right to speak offensively. And this right is held sacred. Look, I find the editorials in The Nation offensive --

HENNINGER: And if that's true, the next subject we're going to talk about, the Surveillance Act, to restrict NSA's surveillance of American citizens, also should also be on principle. You can't criticize the left for supporting their idea of privacy and then support this as well.

GIGOT: I don't think that Dan is disagreeing with you on rights, Dorothy.  He's just saying on judgment.

RABINOWITZ: No. No, and I agree that would be terrible. Here is another problem. We've now seen through this event and others before it that we are now supposed to expect that if you are guilty of some hatred toward Muslims, you should expect a mob to come forward to kill you. There's an acceptance evident in this kind of protest against this event.


STEPHENS: One point, it also raises the question, at what point does what we call judgment end up in self-censorship? That's quite problematic when simply having a cartoon contest is a potential death sentence between you and whoever happens to be protecting you.

GIGOT: You wouldn't do that against the pope, though?

HENNINGER: No, you certainly wouldn't do it against the pope. I mean, I can see trying to -- there are endless ways to make a point about the extremism and homicidal instincts of Islam and jihad I think without doing something like this.

GIGOT: All right, thank you so much.

When we come back, three more candidates jump into what's shaping up to be a crowded Republican field. What do Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina bring to the race, and will it help them break out of the Republican pack?




DR. BEN CARSON, R-RETIRED NEUROSURGEON & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Ben Carson and I'm a candidate for president of the United States.


MIKE HUCKABEE, R-FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I announce that I am a candidate for president of the United States of America.



GIGOT: Well, the GOP field doubled in size this week with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee; retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson; and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina all jumping into the presidential race.

Here with a look at what they bring to the Republican field is Dan Henninger, as well as Wall Street Journal Potomac Watch columnist, Kim Strassel; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.

So, Kim, great to have you in the studio here in New York.


GIGOT: So Mike Huckabee won Iowa in 2008 before fading out in New Hampshire and South Carolina. How formidable of a candidate is he this time around.

STRASSEL: Well, he's going after the social conservative vote out there, evangelicals. They were the people who propelled him to victory in 2008.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: And they are certainly a potent force and their votes are up for grabs. This is an ordained minister. He is very good on the stump. He has a following here on FOX. That all matters. And it's going to help him. I think other issues that have to do with the mood of the electorate that could be a problem.

GIGOT: Well, as a social conservative, it's interesting, because his approach, he's not the "cast the first stone" kind of conservative.

STRASSEL: No. He's a happy --

GIGOT: He's a redemption guy.


GIGOT: And has a happy face and he sells that message very well.

STRASSEL: He's very good at it. Back in 2008, if you followed him around, that was -- people really loved it. He was very good. It's about the candidate, and he was a good candidate.

GIGOT: Now what about the economic populism which he's out with. Very clearly, he's opposed to trade agreements so far. He's saying tax cuts for people in upper-income levels, he doesn't like that. And he says we shouldn't touch entitlements.


GIGOT: Social Security, Medicare. And if you do, then you're somehow hurting working people, which is the language of the left.

STRASSEL: Yeah. So I think this is his real liability in the race in that you have this much more conservative electorate these days, grass roots out there, and what all of that translates into, that you just said, this is kind of the larger government candidate out there. He doesn't want to deal with entitlements. If you look at his record when he was governor of Arkansas, taxes went up significantly, spending went up significantly. He doesn't have a record that way that he can run on the way of some of his competitors.

GIGOT: OK, James, let's talk about Carly Fiorina, former CEO. Worked her way up from secretary to CEO of Hewlett Packard. Not easy to do. What does she bring to the race?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: I think Republican primary voters are going to decide she brings a lot. Very fluent in a lot of issues and the business career, although controversial -- she got fired.  And the stock did not do well while she was running --


GIGOT: A board-room brawl.

FREEMAN: Board-room brawl. But I think the success of the company in the years following made a lot of people say that her strategy was really vindicated. So you're looking at someone who has management experience on a very high level and in an era when we've just gone through a presidency with essentially a guy coming in with no management experience, we've seen how that's gone. She also got this unique, in the Republican field, opportunity. If you're thinking of Hillary Clinton on the other side, this is a candidate who takes away all of Hillary's gender arguments, war on women rhetoric, then you make Hillary talk about the wonderful work of the Clinton Foundation and things like that, and it could be challenging.

GIGOT: OK, Ben Carson, Dr. Ben Carson, what a spectacular career and life story. But, like Carly Fiorina, rookie candidate.


GIGOT: He came in to see us. You listened to him. What do you think?

HENNINGER: I'm impressed. I think Dr. Ben Carson is a unique political personality. He's what we call a conviction politician. He actually believes in what he says. Here's a fellow who had been a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins for over 30 years. Babies conjoined at the head, he is the one that did that. He's a superstar. Ben Carson steps away from medicine, looks at the political environment around him, and he is aghast at what he sees. His way of describing it I am not politically correct. He certainly is not --


-- because he thinks that the way the government runs health care and the way the government runs the inner cities is a disaster. And that is what he addresses. And he does it in an extremely persuasive and convincing way.

GIGOT: What are his weaknesses though?

HENNINGER: His weaknesses are that he is a rookie politician and he just says what's on his -- he is a free thinker.


And sometimes he says things that really rub people the wrong way. And the press can use that against him.

GIGOT: Same with Carly Fiorina, James. I mean --


FREEMAN: Yeah, that's the knock.

GIGOT: It's tough she has never won a serious election.

FREEMAN: Yeah. And I think, along with Carson, she is an excellent communicator. These are both people who can speak to the average person.  She can even talk about regulation and bring it down to the kitchen-table level, which is a crying need in this country. It's a big problem. It's why we're not growing in large parts, so --


HENNINGER: Some candidates embarrass us. These two should be heard. I'm glad they're in.

STRASSEL: They have ideas.

GIGOT: Are any of these in the top-tier, Kim, in your view of the Republican field?

STRASSEL: Probably not at this point. But we have a long way to go to see how things shake out. Again, the point is, they're bringing interesting ideas and different perspectives.

GIGOT: Is Huckabee's ideas so interesting? I'm not sure that --



STRASSEL: We were just talking about Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.


GIGOT: I mean, it seems to me that Huckabee actually could pose a real problem for the Republicans. Because if he attacks the other candidates on grounds that Hillary Clinton is going to use --


STRASSEL: She's going to use --

GIGOT: -- income tax proposals --


GIGOT: -- that could divide the Republican field and hurt them.

STRASSEL: Yeah. He is running -- he is a Democrat-lite, is his economic populism. He is already hitting his candidates hard, and they'll use that.

GIGOT: All right, thank you all very much.

When we come back, Hillary Clinton continues her pivot to the left, this week, on the issue of immigration. So what's behind this latest shift?  And does it carry risks for her GOP rivals?



HILLARY CLINTON, D-FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We can't wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship. Now, this is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side. Make no mistake, today, not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one.  When they talk about legal status that is code for second-class status.


GIGOT: Hillary Clinton, in Las Vegas this week, embracing full citizenship for undocumented immigrants and taking a shot at her GOP rivals along the way. And Mrs. Clinton's latest policy shift puts her to the left of even President Obama. But could it pose some political risks for her Republican components?

We're back with Dan Henninger, Kim Strassel and Dorothy Rabinowitz.

Dorothy, what do you make of this immigration position?

RABINOWITZ: Well, considering that Mrs. Clinton was a person who didn't want driver's licenses issued to people who are illegal immigrants. This is not unusual among politicians but --

GIGOT: But she's shifting now.


RABINOWITZ: She's shifting. She's leaping.


The thing is that you notice this in her a lot more. It's a lot more grating. This tells you something about the impact of a politician like her who has proven over and over and over again that she shifts ground.


But she thinks -- clearly, she thinks, Kim, this is a political advantage for her. She thinks this gives her a wedge issue against all Republicans - -

STRASSEL: It does.

GIGOT: -- and particularly the citizenship. Because Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, even those two are, you know, they're open immigration reform but they stop short of full citizenship and they say, look, you get legal status here but then you have to go back in line --


GIGOT: -- if you want to become a citizen behind those following the rules legally. She's saying, no, instant citizenship -- not instant, but earned citizenship over some period of time.

STRASSEL: Yeah. And she's counting on Republicans having a big fight over this, continuing to look as though they are anti-Hispanic. Because what she's ultimately driving to do is put back together the Obama coalition.

GIGOT: Do you think it's smart politics?

STRASSEL: I think it is for her. But it could be -- look, there's a double-edged sword here. If the Republicans are smart, they will focus to some degree, by the way, not just on the immigration question but on the legality question. She is talking about expanding a lot of these dubious constitutional moves.


GIGOT: She says Congress doesn't act --


GIGOT: -- she will go even further --


GIGOT: -- to legalize even more. And the implication of what she said was even further than President Obama.

STRASSEL: Exactly. And so in some ways, what you could say is this does allow Republicans to maybe move away from the policy a little bit and start talking about, saying, you know, we're all for immigration reform when it's done by Congress. And I think that resonates with people out there.

HENNINGER: Well, I would pick up on Kim's point that Hillary is treating the Hispanics as abstract voting blocs, like a bunch of people are going to vote for me and I'm going to -- right?


HENNINGER: And I think it does give the Republicans an opportunity to go beyond that and talk to these people as individuals.

Chris Christie has visited hundreds of towns in New Jersey, talking to black people who were not going to vote for him. But he wanted to talk -- John Kasich has done the same thing. Jeb Bush has reached out to Hispanics directly. I think if Republicans engage them in a serious way, they can mitigate some of the effect of this cynical block strategy.

GIGOT: Dorothy?

RABINOWITZ: Well, I was thinking also what is not smart about this, and what is not smart about this is the abandonment, really, of any concern for Independent voters. She's clearly going right for the Obama coalition.  And this not only with immigration but with her "let us have a softer view of crime enforcements, let us" -- she did this radical speech at Colombia University where she basically said, let us go back to the good old days when police were not hitting you for broken windows. All of this seeps down to the consciousness of the public now. She is taking us back. But back is not going to be popular.

GIGOT: How crucial a wedge issue, Kim, is the citizenship question versus the legal -- just being legalized here and being able to go on with your life and go on as you want, but you don't get to vote?


GIGOT: And is that going to be a crucial issue? Because we talked to leading Republicans who said, you know, 60 percent, 70 percent of people who are illegal here don't really care that much about citizenship. They care more about "can I just have a job and work"?

STRASSEL: and it's true. Also, by the way, a lot of them come here and work temporarily and then go back home. They simply want an ability to stay here and come out of the shadows --

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: -- and be able to participate fully in American life. And I don't think a lot of them would even mind the idea, too, of going to the back of the line. I'm not sure it's as big a pull as Hillary Clinton would like it.

GIGOT: As long as the Republican, whoever the Republican nominee is seems open to immigration and to the contributions that immigrants make in the United States.

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


GIGOT: Time now for "Hits & Misses" of the week -- Kim?

STRASSEL: This is a hit for David Cameron and his Tory Party in which, what was supposed to be a very close election in Britain, in fact, they had an incredibly successful night. It looks like they got an outright majority in parliament. It a vote of approval for his conservative policies and a strong economy as much as it is a repudiation of Ed Miliband and the Labour Party, which has been moving leftward. Britain didn't want that and good for Britain. GIGOT: All right.


FREEMAN: Well, we still haven't learned about the truth of the IRS targeting scandal of conservatives, but thanks to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and a group called Z Street, we're starting to learn more about how the IRS operates. And the judges and this group that's suing, which -- application was delayed --

GIGOT: A pro-Israel group.

FREEMAN: It's a pro-Israel group, which, for some reason, earned them greater scrutiny from the IRS.

GIGOT: Well, we know why.


FREEMAN: Completely appalling, but now it's coming out into the sunlight.  The case is far from over. But good for the D.C. Circuit and for Z Street for trying --


GIGOT: And discovery should be interesting if that case goes forward.


HENNINGER: Well, a big hit for the Democratic National Committee, Paul, which this week announced that they're going to have only six primary debates, setting off a firestorm of objection from Hillary Clinton's opponents. Who are they? Well, there's the Vermont Socialists --

GIGOT: Who are they?


HENNINGER: Vermont Socialist, Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders says I want to debate her as many times as I can. And I think we want to see Bernie Sanders debate Hillary as many times as he can. So I say, go for it, Hillary's candidates, wherever you are.

GIGOT: I'm surprised they allowed any debates.


They want a coronation.


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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