1. The Mitt Romney vs. Rick Perry sniping could well turn into mutually assured destruction. They are both honing attacks against each other that will surely be used against them in the general if either of them ends up the nominee.
2. Perry doesn't have to worry quite yet, because he has a better campaign and few people who aren't political journalists are watching. But if he keeps turning in performances like this, he will risk becoming another conservative flavor of the month like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. I say this not to denigrate Cain or Bachmann, but merely to point out the transient nature of their surge in the polls.
3. Romney shouldn't get too comfortable, however, because his inadequacies are why conservatives keep looking for flavors of the month.
4. Romney's health care answers may satisfy the Fox focus groups and his commitment to repealing Obamacare will have to be good enough for most conservatives if he is the nominee. But don't underestimate how much his Massachusetts record will hurt the anti-Obamacare argument in the general and perhaps beyond.
5. One interesting side question: Do Gary Johnson, who had a good line (apparently borrowed from Rush Limbaugh), and Jon Huntsman, who squared off with Rick Santorum over foreign policy, stunt Ron Paul's recent momentum at all? My guess is no, but it bears watching. Johnson may have been setting himself up for his eventual Paul endorsement by picking the Texas congressman as a hypothetical running mate, but Huntsman is competing with Paul for a top three finish in New Hampshire.
6. Santorum may improve his standing with the conservative movement, damaged by the Bush years and his 2006 loss, with his presidential candidacy even if he ultimately doesn't win very many votes. This will be in contrast with Newt Gingrich, whose standing will be harmed by a subpar performance among actual voters.
UPDATE: The big liberal takeaway from tonight seems to be that Republican debate audiences cheer executions and people dying without health insurance but boo gay soldiers who have served in Iraq.
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