Mitt Romney — Didn’t do anything to hurt himself, which is always his objective. But if he is the nominee, he won’t be treated as gently on the individual mandate, TARP, the auto bailout, and flip-flops as he generally was (by everyone except for the moderators) tonight.
Herman Cain — Turned the questions about the sexual harassment charges to his advantage, but was almost on-message to a fault. When people laugh at the mention of your tax plan, that’s not a good sign. Affable and personable, but without much command of details beyond 999.
Newt Gingrich — Strong performance, typically belligerent toward the moderators but mostly followed Reagan’s 11th Commandment regarding his opponents. I am beginning to wonder if the Lincoln-Douglas debate this past weekend was designed to make a play for Cain supporters should the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO implode. Expect Gingrich’s rise to continue.
Ron Paul — Best debate performance so far. In command of economic facts, no foreign policy questions to annoy the audience. Excellent answer on student loans. Frequently talks too fast and resorts to Austrian inside baseball, however.
Rick Santorum — Not as good as usual. His claiming credit for all sorts of things while senator seemed pedantic and his complaints about time pathetic. Didn’t get to play ideological enforcer in this format.
Michele Bachmann — Her tax everybody message is fool’s gold for Republicans. Tax the poor was a Rush Limbaugh quip circa The Way Things Ought to Be, not a conservative fiscal policy.
Jon Huntsman — Smart but basically irrelevant.
UPDATE: Forgot to mention Cain’s “Princess Nancy” remark, which was ill advised given his recent troubles but probably won’t move his numbers among Republican voters.