Will Another Candidate Emerge as Romney's Main Challenger?

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This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," November 12, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," with two of his chief rivals on the ropes, will another candidate emerge as Mitt Romney's main challenger?

Plus, a big win for big labor as Ohio voters reject restrictions on collective bargaining rights. Are unions making a comeback?

And a new report says that Iran is just steps away from building a nuclear bomb. Will Israel attack before the west responds?

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

It was a rough week for GOP potentials. Herman Cain fighting off new allegations of sexual harassment and Rick Perry having a brain freeze at Wednesday night's Michigan debate. Will another candidate emerge from the GOP field as Mitt Romney's main challenger?

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

So, Dan, I think after the debate, so question that Mitt Romney continues to be the strongest runner, the front runner who is likely to emerge here, but who is likely to rise to challenge him as the Iowa caucuses get closer?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, you know, Paul we get asked this a lot. Every time I go through this exercise, you say to yourself, you go through the list and you go, am I forgetting somebody? Am I sure Paul Ryan is not on that stage.

GIGOT: The current candidates are making that big of an impression, are they?


HENNINGER: Yes. We have entered the "Twilight Zone" of presidential nominations, Herman Cain with his women problems and Rick Perry with his speaking problems, and Mitt Romney can't get above 25 percent. Apparently, he is sinking in the most recent polls. So, the answer? We are in a kind of unusual period with this, it's hard to predict. Herman Cain clearly has enough personal media charisma to be a strong candidate if this issue doesn't blow him up.

GIGOT: You don't see him fading?

HENNINGER: I don't see him fading unless one of these stories truly sinks him. Secondly on substantial, Newt Gingrich is clearly one person on the stage, other than Romney and maybe Huntsman, who is actually talking in some depth about issues that matter to people. So I think it's by and large those two.

GIGOT: Herman Cain, Jason, is he going to make it through this? How has he done this week as opposed to last?

JASON RILEY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, it looks like he's holding steady right now, but if you parse some of the poll numbers, Republican women, he's starting to lose ground with some of them, as might be expected. Whether he can hold up, I don't know. In the long run, I don't think so. Mitt Romney has had consistent trouble with two groups in the GOP, Evangelicals and Tea Party supporters. Those are the two groups that pushed Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry and now they're pushing Herman Cain. I think Cain's are ultimately going to fall. The question becomes, will those two groups resolve themselves to Mitt Romney or look to someone else like a Newt Gingrich. Time is running short, less than two months to Iowa.

GIGOT: Dorothy, you wrote this week, you think that Newt Gingrich could be the one who emerges as the main challenger and could even win the nomination. What's your case?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I do. I believe not only because of Romney's weaknesses, which are considerable, because he has not lost that sense of wanting the presidency so much, to put it blandly, that he would say anything. We have on the one hand a bunch of people who would not run for this office. On the other hand--


GIGOT: About whom you're very fond, I know.



On the other hand we have Mr. Romney who has this record, which he keeps repeating. What he did in Ohio after everything, after all of the talk about his waffling, to have backed out on that union business was very --


GIGOT: That's a vulnerability for Romney. Why Gingrich?


GIGOT: He was ruled out three months ago?

RABINOWITZ: I've had enough male on this, telling me anybody has been thinking this. Anybody who is exposed to Gingrich on the campaign trail, who listens to him, hears this extraordinary flow of substance, ringing conviction, which put at such dramatic odds as a leader and whose ideas are so contagious that he makes the room rise up.

HENNINGER: Well, I think --


RABINOWITZ: This is an important thing in the presidential race.

GIGOT: Clearly, he knows, Dan, he's the most knowledgeable about government of all of them on the stage. No doubt about that.

HENNINGER: And that matters.

GIGOT: It ought to matter, shouldn't it? Don't we want someone at least informed?

HENNINGER: Yes. Exactly.


That I think was essentially Rick Perry's problem. This is the governor of Texas decided the last minute to run for the presidency. He's got to talk about Washington, whose issues by and large are an abstraction to a governor like that. He simply hasn't absorbed them. Like it or not, people are so mad and angry at Washington, if we're going to fix Washington, we're going to need a president who understands Washington, in depth, and understands its politics. An insider actually. And Newt Gingrich is clearly showing that he understands the details of the problem. And I think people are responding to that.

RILEY: And he's talented. He's a talented politician. And we see that in the debates. And as Republicans watch his debates, they're imagining how this person might do against President Obama come October of next year, and clearly, Newt Gingrich looks like he'd be formidable person on the stage.

GIGOT: Do you agree with Dan about Perry's problems? Because he came in the race with so much promise with his Texas jobs record, and assuming that would be perfect for the moment. Has his personal failings as a candidate trumped that message?

RILEY: Oh, of course. You have to be able to communicate your successes and strengths. This is a man who has been running on his energy plans for the past month and can't remember he wants to eliminate the Energy Department. Can you imagine if this had occurred in October --

GIGOT: Yes, but I've had --


GIGOT: I've had brain freezes on the air too. Everybody does. I don't think you can penalize him for that.


RABINOWITZ: That's exactly right. I mean, this is not like George Romney, Mitt Romney's father, saying I was brain washed. This has nothing about --


GIGOT: About Vietnam.

RABINOWITZ: About Vietnam.

GIGOT: That was 1968 when he was a presidential candidate.

RABINOWITZ: That's right.

RILEY: But this comes after a string of bad debate performances. This is -- this is the cherry on top of the cake, so to speak. If this had been an isolated event, OK, maybe. But we all know what his debate performances have been up to now, to the point where he has considered not debating anymore.

GIGOT: You know, I think --


RILEY: Just reinforcing --


GIGOT: I think that Mitt Romney wants Herman Cain to stay strong because he figures, if Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich divide up the conservative vote, he's going to stay at his solid 20, 25 percent and he can. And he's way ahead in New Hampshire, and could even slip through and win in Iowa, Dan. Briefly.

HENNINGER: I agree. So they have to find some vulnerability in Mitt Romney. And would say quickly, it's his positions on taxes, which is out of step with the all other Republicans now who want flatten and lower rates, and he won't do that.


When we come back, Ohio voters say no to Governor John Kasich's attempt to rein in unions. After a rough run in Wisconsin and New Jersey, is big labor fighting back?


GIGOT: Labor unions are celebrating a big victory in Ohio after voters overturned law to rein the unions representing teachers, police officers and government workers. Signed in March by Republican Governor John Kasich, the law would have stripped the state's 350,000 public employees of their collective bargaining rights and required them to pay at least 15 percent of their health care costs. The measure was rejected by more than 60 percent of voters.

So, after taking a beating in Scott Walker's Wisconsin and Chris Christie's New Jersey is the outcome a sign that unions are making a comeback?

We're back with Dan Henninger and Jason Riley. Also joining the panel, Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, the conventional wisdom is, the message out of Iowa is, if you dare to challenge unions' political power you'll be crushed. Is that right?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I think what we saw out of Ohio this week, when unions across the entire country decide to focus their efforts on one race, and 30 million or more, an astonishing sum, on one initiative, they can actually, yes, pull up. And also, when their opponents make some tactical errors. and we can talk about that. They can pull up.

GIGOT: Yes, what were those mistakes, Kim? You're right about the money. They really threw a lot of money in. But Wisconsin managed to survive with its rules intact and Ohio didn't. Why the difference?

STRASSEL: The difference was up in Wisconsin, what Governor Walker made sure he did was exempt police and firefighters from some of these restrictions on collective bargaining. And that's not the case in Ohio and that seemed to bother a lot of Ohio voters. there with an as poll that showed one in five Republicans seemed to have an issue with the collective bargaining restrictions, no doubt, because of the police and firefighters, inclusion in them.

GIGOT: Jason?

RILEY: Republicans in Ohio also weren't as united as Republicans were in Wisconsin and some of the other states, Indiana and so forth. John Kasich came into office, the Republican governor, wanted to focus on the budget deficit, closing the budget gap without raising taxes and focusing on spending and then worry about union stuff later. But the Republican legislature kind of forced his hand and wanted to do everything at once. As Kim said, they included police and firefighters in these union reforms. Some people didn't like that. But the Republican Party itself was also divided, so you had a united left and divided right on this issue in Ohio.

HENNINGER: Let's try to put the substance of what happened in the political context. Mainly what people were upset about was taking away the collective bargaining rights of the unionists. The other provision about contributions to health and pensions are, in polls, popular with Ohioans. So it looks as though the Republicans now intend to reintroduce those two elements in the next sessions of the legislature. Meanwhile, the Democrats want a two-year moratorium on any union-related legislation. They know that if the other two provisions get put up to a vote, people will probably support it.

GIGOT: But the argument would be that over time, if you don't take on collective bargaining --


GIGOT: -- which gives the public unions outsized influence over taxpayers, right, because they're basically able to influence the politicians through campaign contributions that they're sitting on the other side of the bargaining table with, if you don't do something to fix that, you can't fix the fiscal problems.

HENNINGER: And, Paul, I would say same thing about exempting police and firefighters. I'm not sure how you make your numbers on the fiscal rationalization if you don't include those people in the plan.

GIGOT: Kim, one of the interesting results from Ohio was the same voters to reject the collective bargaining reforms, also rejected overwhelmingly the president's health care plan. It was a largely symbolic vote. But the numbers were extraordinary, almost the opposite of the collective bargaining decision. How do you square that?

STRASSEL: I think it ought to cause some pause in the jubilation that Democrats in the White House have said they feel about Ohio. In the end, 180,000 more voted against Obamacare than voted against the union law. So, what ended up happening, a lot of people out there supporting the unions were voting down the president's health care laws, some of the very union people out there protecting their own rights. So, I mean, what this does say to Republicans, obviously, that's going to a very strong issue for them going in to next year. The health care really does resonate probably more than union questions around the country.

RILEY: And I would just add, again, what Kim said to reiterate. If you're a Republican next year, you probably want to run health care not against collective bargaining.


GIGOT: Kim, quickly, what about results in Virginia and New Jersey? The president has spent a lot of time in Virginia, in particular, and he won that in 2008 and hopes to do it again. What's the he message from the races than they were for the state legislature this week?

STRASSEL: You know, the White House is putting a lot of hopes on places like Virginia to potentially even out potential losses they might have in other traditional swing states. So they're spending a lot of time in Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada. These legislative elections were devastating for them. And the Republicans increased their amounts in the House. They took over the state Senate. They now have unified control of government. And in Maine counties there, where Obama won last time, he's really struggling, too.

GIGOT: All right, so we'll be watching and see what happens for 2012.

When we come back, a U.N. report says Iran is close to a nuclear bomb. Will Israel attack before the West responds?


GIGOT: A report provided by the U.N.'s nuclear watch dog provided the strongest evidence that Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon. The IAEA assessment detail show Iran has carried out computer simulations of nuclear explosions, worked on detonators and made more than a dozen designs for fitting atomic warheads to missiles. This comes amid widespread reports that Israel is once again considering a strike on Iran's nuclear facility.

For more, we're joined by Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens.

Bret, how much new did we really learn this week from that report?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Not a lot. A lot of this has been reported or strongly suspected for many years. The reason it's important, is because it gives the perimeter of the International Atomic Energy Agency to all of this information. The IAEA is a very cautious, responsible agency. Nobody on any side of the debate can accuse it of hyping the intelligence. It stresses how it collected this intel and how it cross checked streams of intelligence it had to gave us this sense of the ballistic missile capability, the nuclear explosives tests and so on.

GIGOT: But we were told, been reading anyway, that the computer virus that struck Iran's nuclear program set it back, but apparently not enough?

STEPHENS: No, in fact, IAEA reports notes that Iran has enriched a third of its stockpile of uranium in just the last year around. So the virus does not seem to have provided the silver bullet a lot of people hoped it would be.

GIGOT: What's the timetable, do you think, in terms of when they could actually be ready to explode a bomb, if they wanted to?

STEPHENS: They're pretty much ready to explode a bomb in the next six months. They have enough fissile material, which is the tough part of building an atomic bomb. They have enough of the material for three or four bombs. And that's what --


GIGOT: We've heard before, it's six months or a year. Why should we believe that now?

STEPHENS: We know they know how to assembly and put that fissile material into shape and devise explosives that can actually detonate this thing.

HENNINGER: That's right. And one additional footnote. They're creating complex explosives that allow them to put a bomb on a war head. It's always been a big problem how you deliver a bomb once you get it. They're getting to the point where they are going to be able to deliver it.

GIGOT: Certainly makes fools of the people who wrote in 2007, in that American National Intelligence Estimate that they had given up the program in 2003.

STEPHENS: That report was deceitful and wrong. It was deceitful in the sense that it suggested the enrichment activities were somehow a side war to building a nuclear weapon, when in fact they're an essential part of it. But even on the point they were making, which is the Iranians put the weaponization to the side in the fall 2003, now turns out, according to what we just learned in the last week, to be flatly wrong.

GIGOT: Let's talk about Israel. There's been a lot of discussion in the press that they are once again considering a strike. Do you think that's real?

STEPHENS: I think it's -- it's increasingly plausible. For a long time, Israel has been hoping that the United States would do the job because America's capabilities are so much more extensive.

GIGOT: Military capability.

STEPHENS: Military capabilities --


GIGOT: Intelligence.

STEPHENS: intelligence and air power and so on. Now, I think there's a real fear that the Obama administration has not been serious. You talking and look, you hear the Obama administration talking about a new round of sanctions and opposing it at the U.N. It's going nowhere. Israel recently tested a long-range ballistic missile. They have been improving their ballistic missile defenses for the last year. and you hear, not only people -- traditional hawks like Prime Minister Netanyahu, but even doves, like President Shimon Perez, talking about the need to take military action if the United States lets matters continues.

GIGOT: Do you think they're serious?

HENNINGER: I think they're serious. And I think the real danger is in pitching this issue forward. Israel isn't the only other country sitting over there watching that. I think the other crucial country is Turkey, a very wealthy country, a Middle Eastern country, who --

GIGOT: They say they're opposed to any kind of attack.

HENNINGER: They're opposed to any kind of attack, but they're probably not opposed anymore to developing their nuclear capability when you have Iran, Russia, Pakistan and Israel in their part of the world with nuclear capability. Why wouldn't they now? The logic is overwhelming for Turkey to move on.

STEPHENS: And Saudi Arabia as well, which could purchase a bomb from Pakistan overnight.

GIGOT: And then Egypt, probably, too.


GIGOT: You'd see a nuclear arms race, right?

STEPHENS: Which is an ironic --


STEPHENS: It would be an ironic outcome for an administration who has made nuclear arms control the cornerstone of his foreign policy.

GIGOT: Leon Panetta this week, talked about -- the defense secretary -- talked about unintended consequences of a nuclear strike. So he's warning that maybe that's an implicit warning to Israel, maybe not the strongest message of deterrence to send to Iran.

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, Dorothy.

RABINOWITZ: All right. Robert Abbey (ph), of the Department of the Interior, has let it be known that Franklin Roosevelt's iconic speech about D-Day and our prayer is not welcome on a memorial of D-Day. This extraordinary bureaucratic effort of mentioning God in any of our institutions is one of the most memorable assaults on reasons and sanity, as well as the most offensive.

GIGOT: Dorothy, thank you.


STEPHENS: This is a hit -- for me. A few weeks ago on this show, I predicted President Obama would not allow the Keystone X.L. Pipeline project to come forward. This is the pipeline that would bring almost a million barrels a day from Canada into the United States and make us more independent from Middle Eastern oil, create tens of thousands of jobs. There are thousands of miles of pipeline all over the country. the president found environmental excuses not only to cave to his environmentalist base, but also to denying thousands of Americans a right to go to work right away.

GIGOT: You were right. I was wrong. I wasn't cynical enough about the politics.


It's the wrong place to be, I think nowadays.


STRASSEL: A miss for the White House over the latest revelations about Solyndra, that bankrupt company with a federal loan guarantee. The White House has claimed along there was no political hanky-panky here. They did not interfere with the Department of Energy's loan process and that Solyndra's investors, at least one of which is an Obama donor, did not exert pressure. Now House Republicans released e-mails this week that put real doubt on that -- on those questions and statements. The White House continues to obstruct, putting out the communication on this. I think it's time they just come clean.

GIGOT: All right.

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

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you watching.

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

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