MITT ROMNEY -2
He had the most to lose, having been surpassed by newcomer Perry in just about every poll, but he was reasoned, reassuring and most Reagan-like. He did a decent job of reassuring conservatives while establishing himself as a viable choice for independents in the general election. He didn't card a spectacular score -- he was no Tiger or Jack -- but he avoided double-bogeys, even when the subject was Romneycare, and had a couple of nice birdies.
NEWT GINGRICH ... JON HUNTSMAN ... HERMAN CAIN ... RICK SANTORUM Even
Gingrich started poorly -- all but coming out and saying he'd refuse to debate because he wanted to take on Obama, not his fellow Republicans -- but he rallied by making several good points on the economy. Huntsman seemed likable, mature and knowledgeable, and he nicely hammered home his record as Utah governor (a point nobody challenged). Cain quickly made solid conservative points, especially his 9-9-9 tax plan. Santorum stuck to the issues and sounded both compassionate and conservative. Unfortunately for these men, each entered the night so far off the lead he needed to shoot a course record just to get back in the running. Par wasn't nearly enough.
RICK PERRY +1
Some pundits have declared Perry the biggest loser because of his intractable stance on Social Security and his admitted faux pas on his executive order mandating HPV vaccines for pre-teens. He also stumbled and looked shaky on a couple of answers. However, his job in these debates is to secure the GOP nomination, and it's doubtful that he scared off his base with this performance.
RON PAUL +3
I want to like Ron Paul. I do like a lot of what he says, especially about the idiocy of using our troops for nation-building thousands of miles away from home. But he came across as desperate and more than a little wacky. His accusation that some TSA agents are practically sexual predators was precious, though.
MICHELE BACHMAN +5
She was asked six questions and answered only two of them -- and one of those answers came only after the moderator repeated his question and demanded she answer. Frankly, she seemed out of her league, and this after such a strong performance in the first debate. With Perry now in the race, she quickly will be deemed unnecessary by her base. Too bad ... she's often such a fun sound bite.
Five more points:
1. It's early, yes, but based on what I know about the candidates right now, I could see myself voting for either Romney or Huntsman over Obama. I can't imagine any circumstance that would lead me to vote for Perry. And I like to think that I am the exact kind of independent voter the eventual GOP nominee should want to court.
2. Was it only me, or did it seem pretty contrived to invite the Telemundo reporter to ask the immigration questions?
3. I would have liked a question relating to Ronald Reagan raising taxes 11 times and the debt ceiling 18 times during his eight years as president. Is it possible that in today's GOP, Reagan would be dismissed as too far left?
4. It was refreshing that the debate avoided pandering to the religious right and that there was very little kowtowing to the tea party. Thank you, candidates.
5. Before the festivities, I watched The Colbert Report from the previous night. Stephen's guest was Tim Pawlenty, who was funny, intelligent, engaging, self-deprecating and confident. If only that Tim Pawlenty had run for president -- instead of the one who did a disservice to his own beliefs and to his admirable record as Minnesota governor by trying desperately to please tea-partiers -- he might still be in the race. How about Vice President Pawlenty on the GOP ticket? They could do a lot worse.