What's Behind the Clamor for Chris Christie?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," October 1, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the clamor for Christie. Calls continue for the New Jersey governor to jump into the GOP presidential race. He said he won't, so why do so many Republicans keep hoping?

Plus, Rick Perry draws fires from his rivals for being soft on immigration. We'll take a closer look at his record as a border-state governor and his controversial stand on in-state tuition for illegals.

All that, and anti-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in Yemen. Does the U.S. have Al Qaeda on the ropes?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need you. Your country needs you to run for president.



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

He said he won't run, but the clamor for Chris Christie continues. That plea from a supporter after the New Jersey governor delivered a speech at the Reagan Library in California this week. So what does Christie have that the current GOP field is missing?

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Jason Riley; columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.

So, James, is this clamor about the appeal of Christie or the lack of appeal of everybody else?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: It's mainly Christie. Obviously, Rick Perry, the recent entrant into the race, has doesn't a great job in the debates. But you're seeing a clamor for Christies because people are looking at all these guys on the stage, the Republican debates, and saying they're not as good as the governor of New Jersey has done, for the last two years, a very powerful case for more limited government.

GIGOT: Is the fact Christie has been in that battle, people have seen him and people have seen him taking on the challenges? Is that it?

FREEMAN: They've seen him and they've also emulated him. He's really taught Republicans around the country how to talk about reforming government, limiting benefits programs in a direct way, in a way where, for example, he can talk about reforming teachers unions and their pension systems without coming off at anti-education and that's been very hard for Republicans to do until Christie.

GIGOT: Jason, is this about, though, the rest of the field not quite measuring up?

JASON RILEY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Republicans don't trust Mitt Romney and they don't think Perry is electable, and I think that's why you see a clamor for Chris Christie. I think one of the things that may be giving Christie pause, however, is Perry -- what happened to Perry. Here is a veteran politician, governor, one of the largest states, 11 years, he sort of flopped in the debate. Perry has been governor for two years. He might be thinking to himself, wow, look what happened to Perry. Am I ready for this?

GIGOT: You have to go to school on a lot of issues, foreign policy and other things.

Dan, you argued to us as a group that you don't think that Chris Christie is ready for this kind of vetting and candidacy, why?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Taking him at his word, he's the one who also says he isn't ready. I think the thing you have to understand about Chris Christie and one of the sources of his appeal is that Christie is a former prosecutor, a former federal prosecutor. What prosecutor do -- and we went through this, recall, with Rudy Giuliani. Prosecutors assemble their facts, they absorb them, and then they're terrific at making a presentation and an argument based on the facts. And I think what James is describing is why Christie had such an appeal. He knows New Jersey, pensions, union, finances. When we've talked to him, it hasn't just been a guy who makes interesting and funny arguments. He knows his stuff.

But Medicare, Social Security, entitlement reform, foreign policy, tax policy, I don't think he would feel comfortable in having his back mastered the way he has New Jersey, and would run the risk in a debate of that coming through.

GIGOT: James?

FREEMAN: You look at his background and he was not a career politician. Before he was governor -- became governor of the state in 2009, his day job was putting away politicians, who were corrupt in New Jersey --


-- not studying on their policies, so, I think if you look--

GIGOT: What about the vulnerability that Dan points out and Jason suggests, which is you've got to be a quick study on these national issues, otherwise they're going to say, you really said you're going to raise the retirement age on Medicare. You step on a land mine like that and everybody sudden says you're he not ready for prime time.

FREEMAN: Well, I think he is showing lately he does have a broader view. One of the things that got people excited in that Reagan Library speech is he's talking about free trade and he's talking not about New Jersey, but about how America has to lead the world economically if we want to be a model to the world. I think you've seen him go in great depth on a lot of the issues and I don't see why he couldn't do that at the national level.

GIGOT: I liked that speech myself, Jason. He talked about earned American exceptionalism and he took that speech out of just policy wonkism and brought it to a higher level about the better angels of America's political character.

RILEY: Sure, you know what another theme of that speech was? His ability to lead New Jersey with divided government. He was highlighting his ability to compromise --


-- and that is part of leadership. That was another running theme of that debate. He's a Republican, working with the state legislature run by the other party, and he was able to get things done because he was willing to compromise.

Is that a primary --


-- message that he was --


RILEY: -- that voters want to hear?

GIGOT: But he compromised on his turf in a sense. He got, what 50, 70 percent of what he wanted.

RILEY: But that's not what they want. It's not just whether Christie can defend positions. It's some of those positions that he holds that we don't know a lot about that could come up if he were to get into the race, his positions on energy policy, positions on gun control and even some of his positions on abortions. He's pro-life, but on the campaign trail when he was running for governor, he opposed a law that would have forced minors, for example, to get permission from parents before getting an abortion.


FREEMAN: But he's also cut funding for Planned Parenthood. He's governed as a small-government conservative to the extent he can in New Jersey, gotten the legislature, amazingly to some, to go along on a lot of reforms. I think that conservative voters are going to be comfortable with him. And some of the things you mentioned are not going to scare away independents, which I think is lot of the Republicans around the country are excited to have him at the top of the ballot.

HENNINGER: I think if he gets in, he'll be responding to go what the woman said at the outset, your country needs you. Voters understand this is a historic election. And Chris Christie would be taking some risk to get in. And if he gets in, I say more credit to him for taking that risk and understanding, it is a bigger-than-average election.

GIGOT: Sometimes a moment comes before you think you're prepared for it.

All right, still ahead, Rick Perry's rival's attack, accusing the governor of being soft on illegal immigration. We'll take a closer look at the Perry record in Texas and his controversial decision to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students.



GOV. RICK PERRY, R-TEXAS: If you say that we should not educate children that have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there, by no-fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS.: That kind of magnet draws people into this country to get that education to get the $100,000 break.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-MINN.: I would not allow taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal aliens or for their children.


REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS: No free education, no free subsidies, no citizenship.



GIGOT: Well, Rick Perry is taking a pounding from his fellow Republicans presidential candidates for his stand on immigration, especially his support for tuition breaks for those here illegally. Perry signed a law in 2001 that made Texas the first state in the country to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants. To qualify, a student must have lived in the state three years, graduated from a Texas high school, and agree to apply for permanent residency.

Jason, who do you think has the better argument, Perry or his critics?

RILEY: There are a couple of criticisms of Perry going on. One is whether he's sufficiently pro-border enforcement. And Michele Bachmann wants to build a wall on every inch of the border and has criticized Perry for saying he wants a virtual fence in some areas --


GIGOT: So there's not much difference there?

RILEY: I don't think there's a lot of daylight between Perry and his critics on the issue. Mitt Romney is going after him, however, on this in- state tuition issue. Romney did the same thing to Huckabee four years ago. When Huckabee was governor of Arkansas, he also supported in-state tuition, and Romney criticized him for it.

I don't think -- I think it's overblown, however. These are kids that were brought here as children, as young children. We've already educated them K through 12. We have to, according to the Supreme Court ruling in Clare v. Doe. So states like Texas and Arkansas and a dozen states have decided, we have this huge illegal population in our state. Many of them are children. What are we to do? Texas decided, we're better off in the state economically by providing a higher education to these children by letting them have the same access to higher education that residents do.

HENNINGER: Jason mentioned 12 other states. I mean, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann are striking me as fair-weather federalists. Since when do either of them have anything to do with what the legislature of Texas decides to do with its own immigrant population? Thirteen states have voted to give in-state tuition for children of these immigrants. They include Florida, Texas and New Mexico, front-line states. Arizona voted not to do it. I mean, this is an issue of federalism. Either you want to have your -- only four legislators in Texas voted against it.

GIGOT: So, you're suggesting that reflects the political culture in Texas?

HENNINGER: Absolutely. If Texas wants to do this, that's their business. If Arizona doesn't, that's their business. And I don't see what Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann have to do if criticizing the people of Texas if they want to, you know, afford this tuition to these kids.

RILEY: Especially, if they're praising Arizona on states-rights grounds for doing its own thing to address illegal immigration.



GIGOT: Fair-weather federalists?

FREEMAN: Well, the problem -- I think it's great that Rick Perry is pushing back against the anti-immigrant sentiment you're seeing. I think it's a shame that Republicans turned away from the Ronald Reagan vision, which was more open and welcoming toward immigrants. But in this case, I don't like Governor Perry and people supporting him basically arguing this is a winner for Texas because these kids are going to work there and pay a lot of the taxes. And it comes from this belief, much like people used to have with housing, that funding, subsidizing education is always a good investment, and it's not. If they're actually subsidizing 100K per student that money would be better just invested at market rates and that would, for the taxpayer, save a lot more money than you're going to collect in taxes from these kids.

RILEY: The rational is not so much future tax payments as past tax payments. This is like why in-state residents get a discount on a fishing or hunting license.


FREEMAN: -- not even close to the cost of the education.

RILEY: It's because throughout their lifetimes their parents have paid into a state system that out-of-state residents have not. That's why they're entitled to a lower rate.


GIGOT: So what you're saying, Oklahoma residents don't pay Texas sales taxes.

RILEY: Exactly.

GIGOT: But illegals pay Texas sales taxes.

RILEY: So, if an Oklahoma resident wants to go to college in Texas, he pays out-of-state tuition.

GIGOT: What about this argument that the Romney campaign is making, Romney himself? And I heard, as communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, make that argument on FOX network this week, that these in-state tuition benefits are a magnet for illegal immigration to come to the United States?

HENNINGER: You know who sponsored one of the bills in Florida in 2003 and 2004? Mitt Romney's probable running mate, Senator Marco Rubio, all right? Rubio was for in-state tuition for the students in 2003, 2004. Rubio has since moved way to the right and is currently espousing a fairly hard line anti-immigration position. He's the one who is supposed to attract Hispanic candidates. If he gets named Mitt Romney's vice president, he'll be in the same spot as Rick Perry is right now.


RILEY: Just a quick figure to your magnet point. There are about 1.2, 1.3 million college students in Texas. About 1 percent of these are taking advantage of the in-state tuition rate.

GIGOT: And most of them have long --

RILEY: It's great for illegal immigrants.

GIGOT: And most of them have long been here, right? They have long been here.

FREEMAN: If this is an opportunity to cut the education subsidies, I perhaps it ought to be seized. There's a great book out called "The Faculty Lounges," by Naomi Schaeffer Riley --


What it really shows is how -- what we're getting for --



FREEMAN: -- for our investments in the college education. So if this sparks the debate about that, that would do well.

GIGOT: All right, thank you, James.

When we come back, anti-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, is killed in Yemen. Does the U.S. have Al Qaeda on the ropes?


GIGOT: One of the nation's most-wanted terrorists, American-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed Friday in a drone strike in Yemen. His death comes as the U.S. is picking up its drone campaign in Yemen, Somalia and other places that have become sanctuaries for Al Qaeda offshoots, and even as activists in the U.S. challenges the legality of that American campaign.

For more, I'm joined by "Wall Street Journal" foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens, and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski.

So, Matt, it looks like he was killed now by some type of air strike, probably a drone. How important is this event to U.S. security?

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: It's a huge thing. And it really caps an incredible year in counterterrorism. It's kind of a triple crown here with bin Laden was killed in May. This summer, they got a guy named al-Rahman (ph), who was the number-two of Al Qaeda. Someone called and told me he was kind of the general manager of Al Qaeda. And then you have --


GIGOT: The operator.

KAMINSKI: Right. And Awlaki is actually the next generation of al- Qaeda. He was very charismatic, fluent in English, knew how to use the web and social networking, published an online magazine to recruit the kind of terrorists like the guy that tried to set off the bomb on the plane coming to Detroit.

GIGOT: The underwear bomber.

KAMINSKI: Exactly.

GIGOT: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

KAMINSKI: Exactly.

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: He was included in literally every major attack on the United States, including 9/11. He was the imam in a Virginia mosque, also San Diego mosque, where some of the 9/11 plotters worshipped. And there's real speculation he knew of the plot or, in some ways, supported the plots for the Times Square bomber, the underwear bomber, Abdulmutallab, and, of course, Major Nidal --

GIGOT: Nidal Hasan.

STEPHENS: -- Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter. So he had made it his business to continue the jihad against America.

GIGOT: But was his threat the fact that he could -- perhaps because of his English skills, appeal through Internet videos or other appeals to disenchanted American-Muslim youth and radicalize them?


GIGOT: Was that his threat?

STEPHENS: And British youth as well. And that's why his influence is going to remain with us, unfortunately, for a very long time. Because one of the things that he did was produce these C.D.'s and videos that have been described as inspirational for a lot Muslim youth who are tempted or susceptible to the call of jihad.

GIGOT: The irony, here, Matt, is we weren't even targeting him specifically until about a year or two ago. Before that, I mean, and then in 2002, when he was still in the United States, some people had said, this was a moderate Muslim cleric.

KAMINSKI: Absolutely, he was portrayed that way and quoted in some news articles. There has been some speculation that he was even working for the U.S. government, the U.S. intelligence at some point. But it became clear over the last years, that, one, he was the key figure, but also that Yemen was becoming a second kind of Pakistan.

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: A sanctuary for terrorists, who had been pushed out of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. They were all congregating in Yemen and around him. The north of the country is kind of a no-go zone for the Yemeni government. That government is collapsing now in any case, so getting him out is an important step also for Yemen, which is at a very difficult point right now. The president is barely hanging on, named Saleh. Just came back because he was almost killed. So I think it's very important to remember that we need to worry about Yemen as well. And then getting him out of the way was actually a big step forward for stabilizing Yemen.

GIGOT: On that point, Bret, the U.S. is expanding the drone war in that part of the world. And there have been news reports that we're building a base, a new base for drone attacks there. How significant is that -- is that on a campaign?

STEPHENS: Drones are the most effective means that we've found so far to go after terrorist kingpins from the front -- from the hinterlands of Pakistan to Yemen, to Somalia, to places in east Africa. We've gotten very good at this game. And it's not a surprise that it's not only human rights campaigners who have been active against drones. It's sympathizers with the Taliban, with Al Qaeda, who have been putting maximum pressure on the Pakistani government, for instance, to end the drone strikes, because they are so deadly, so effective. And every month, you find a new Taliban or Al Qaeda leader who has been killed. And the effect is, we are decimating their front-line leadership. It means that the new leaders, who are coming to the fore, aren't in their 40s and 50s. They're in their 20s and 30s. Much less serious.

GIGOT: What about the legality of this? Is there any doubt, in your mind, that the U.S. has the authority to pursue this?

KAMINSKI: I mean, under the authority granted by Congress after 9/11, the U.S. has a right to go after anyone who is responsible for 9/11 or associated with people who are responsible for it, people, groups, or nations. I mean, clearly, he was part of Al Qaeda in the area of --



KAMINSKI: There's no doubt here. There is a debate, however, over how far, now as were it into year 10, how far we can go, go after groups in Somalia and other groups in Yemen. There's debate in the administration. I think, for now, the Pentagon believes that it has all the authority it needs to target whoever they want.

GIGOT: And I think they're going to win that argument, inside the administration, at least for now.

KAMINSKI: And in Congress.

GIGOT: And in Congress.

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


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

James, first to you.

FREEMAN: This is a miss to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. After the Solyndra disaster, a solar panel company that got more than half million dollars in federal loan guarantees, went bankrupt, executives now pleading the fifth, won't talk about it, one would have thought that if the -- if Mr. Chu, who ran the program, after all, didn't quite, at least have the decency to be embarrassed and apologetic. Instead, he was shoveling out more money this week on the same kind of loan program. Outrageous.

GIGOT: All right.


STEPHENS: This is a first and last time you're ever going to hear me give a hit to Al Qaeda. Yes.


The world's most evil terrorist organization rebukes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Holocaust-denying president of Iran, for calling the 9/11 incident at his U.N. speech the other day, mysterious. Yes, Al Qaeda has no patience for 9/11 truthers. They worked very hard on killing 3000 Americans and they want to take full credit for it. I think if Al Qaeda has been this definitive, we should take their word for it.

GIGOT: All right.


KAMINSKI: There's joy in baseball, America, perhaps everywhere except Boston, over the return of the curse of the Bambino.


The Boston Red Sox capped the worst slide in baseball history, failing to take the playoffs after being up by nine games. Charles Crawford dropped the ball in the outfield. Bambino, of course, was Babe Ruth who was traded in 1920 and the Red Sox didn't win a World Series until '04. So now the Boston Sox fans know how the old fans felt for generations.

GIGOT: Is that good?


KAMINSKI: It's a good thing. Baseball is a game of position.


GIGOT: All right, that's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you for watching.

I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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