Tonight I think I'll be like Quin last time (and Aaron tonight) and offer some instant analysis with not too much querulous criticism of each of tonight's debaters. I'll do so in alphabetical order, if I can still remember my ABC's after Charlie Rose lost track of them when the candidates did the questioning.
Michele Bachmann: Hit a home run, tape measure at that, early on with her response to Karen Tumulty's question about whether Wall Street bankers should have gone to jail. By pointing the finger at the federal government and its Community Reinvestment Act and the unseemly pressure put on banks to lower lending standards, she was telling Ms. Tumulty something the latter's ears just didn't want to hear. And she did so forcefully and compellingly. She was not as successful in her later comments, particularly in the tired shot at Rick Perry for once being a Democrat who backed Al Gore. I didn't know, as Jim Antle reminded us below, that she backed Jimmy Carter in 1976. (Full disclosure: I voted for Jerry Brown that year.)
Herman Cain: He was targeted perhaps more than Romney, a sure sign of his rise, stature, and star power. He remained tough, most civil, and no less likable. His defense of Alan Greenspan gave Ron Paul a whopper of an opening, but it also was a reminder that Cain is loyal and a reminder of why he's become the most genuinely well liked of all the candidates.
Newt Gingrich: Again, his seeming command and soothing, mellifluous voice and delivery are irresistible. It'll be a lonely stage when he's no longer there to contribute, and in his inimitable way, to tell like it is even while pushing for Republican solidarity against the real opponent, Obama. But again, doesn't he know Ben Bernanke can't be fired?
Jon Huntsman: Had one good moment, when he quipped to Romney that he won't ask him about Mormonism. That defused the entire controversy ginned up by pastor Robert Jeffress last week (though Huntsman slyly managed to link Perry to the issue). For the longest time he seemed missing in action, which was just as well.
Ron Paul: With foreign policy not in play, his guileless presence was no less indispensable to the event than Gingrich's. Except that he's happy to remind viewers that he's almost as anti-Republican as he is anti-Democratic.
Rick Perry: Well, at least this time no one will be able to say he tired down the stretch. That's because for most of the evening he just sat there politely, taking in lots and lots of smart talk by others that he couldn't compete with. And when he had his chance to ask Romney a direct question about Romneycare, Romney in his reply pretty much wiped the floor with him. To add insult to injury, when Romney had the next question, he directed it to Bachmann, seated right next to Perry. Rick who?
Mitt Romney: Besides disposing of Perry one last time, he strengthened his front-runner position, which in case anyone had any doubts was reinforced by Gov. Chris Christie's presence in the audience. Now that's a real endorsement. Romney also smartly played up issues of importance to South Carolina and New Hampshire. He intends to win this nomination early.
Rick Santorum: He seemed most determined to bring Cain down a peg or two, and also made a solid point about the link between broken families and poverty. If he were riding higher I imagine he would not have gotten away with chiding those who backed TARP by saying he strongly opposed it. Surely one of his rivals would have reminded him that when Congress was passing that legislation he was a defeated ex-senator. That's been the problem for him all along, hasn't it -- the difficulty of overcoming the stigma of losing his Senate seat in 2006.
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