Starting at the top and working our way down:
Mitt Romney - Businessman and former Governor of Massachusetts
Romney was the perceived front runner coming into the debate, and during the debate he managed to not do anything that would have hurt his position on the top. He calmly answered the moderator's (John King) questions with confidence, making sure to hit on all the important Republican talking points such as "this president has failed," "the private sector knows better than the government," and "our military generals tell the President what to do." He reminded the audience about his business experience and gave more praise to the private sector than any Republican known to man. It was not difficult to see half-way through the debate that Romney knew his way around the dance floor; his answers were crafted to appeal to both the GOP base and the general electorate - a target audience that none of the other 6 candidates seemed to be cognizant of save Tim Pawlenty. He didn't try very hard to make a big impression for the evening and, based on his recent poll numbers, he didn't have to. To sum him up in one word: Confident.
Michelle Bachmann - Minnesota Congresswoman
Even though we don't find a single thing that comes out of her mouth credible (at all!), you have to hand it to Bachmann last night. She came out with both guns blazing, starting with her announcement at the beginning of the debate that she officially filed her paperwork to run for the Presidency. She played the mostly conservative audience like Russel Crowe in Gladiator, pulling out the red-meat applause line of the evening: "Barack Obama is going to be a 1-term President!" She touted her experience on the House intelligence committee, stated that she is in favor of a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman (ironically after going on a tirade about State's rights), and demonized the Environmental Protection Agency as a job killing agency. To sum her up in one word: Showtime.
Ron Paul - Texas Congressman
He may not have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the Presidency, but Congressman Paul still knows how to hold his own in a debate. As a libertarian, his answers have an interesting way of appealing to the far Right and the far Left simultaneously. For example, he drew applause from the conservative crowd for talking about how the government needs to stay out of the private sector, but then immediately after the applause he flipped it on them and talked about how he would not have followed President Bush's idea to bail out the auto industry. Having served in the military himself, he was notably the only candidate to get it right when asked about whether the military generals tell the Presdident what to do or whether the President tells the generals what to do (the correct answer, according to the Constitution, is the latter). But he did have a few moments where, in typical Ron Paul fashion, he went off on a tangent instead of answering the question, but John King was quick to cut all of the candidates off during the debate so Paul's usual libertarian rants were curtailed accordingly. To sum him up in one word: Bold.
Tim Pawlenty - Former Minnesota Governor
We haven't seen somebody get punked this hard since George McFly got smacked around in the Hill Valley diner by Biff Tannen. On Fox News Sunday (nearly 24 hours before last night's debate), a brave Tim Pawlenty took his first swipe at front-runner Mitt Romney regarding Romney's universal health care plan in Massachussetts; Pawlenty mockingly called it "Obamneycare" (a play on the names Obama and Romney) because Romney's plan has been drawing heat from conservatives for being dangerously identical to "Obamacare." Early on in the debate, moderator John King asked Pawlenty about his jab at Romney from the day before. Pawlenty initially tried to dodge, but King persisted, challenging Pawlenty to look Romney in the eye and repeat his "Obamneycare" criticism. Tim Pawlenty folded like a cheap suit. To sum him up in one word: McFly!!!
Rick Santorum - U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania
On a stage of full of conservatives repeating the same talking points about small government, the blessings of the unfettered market, and the failures of the Obama administration, Santorum did nothing that helped to distinguish or elevate his standing among the 7 GOP candidates. His answers reveal a man who fully embraces the conservative ideology, but his delivery was lackluster at best. Think Bill Richardson during the 2008 Democratic Primary. To sum him up in one word: Average.
Newt Gingrich - former Speaker of the House
For Newt it's probably too little too late. His debate performance wasn't necessarily bad per se, but he certainly had the the steepest hill to climb out of all the candidates coming into the debate. He, like the rest of the candidates, came with the usual anti-Obama talking points, but in order for Gingrich to have done well in the debate he needed to instead focus on convincing the public that his campaign is still alive. He didn't quite make that sale. He still had the same cocky demeanor from before, as if his entire staff didn't just walk out on him a few days ago. To sum him up in one word: Negative.
Herman Cain - Businessman
And falling from the top of the charts into dead last, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain. Many people credited Cain with the win after the last debate on Fox, which may have unfortunately raised expectations for him going into this debate. Cain not only failed to deliver on those expectations, but he quite possibly may have dug himself into an inescapable hole with the general public regarding his completely mishandled (not to mention ignorant and offensive) comment about Muslim Americans serving in his cabinet. His answer was so bad, in fact, that his competitor, Mitt Romney, had to step in afterward an correct Cain by noting that the use of Sharia Law in American courts is simply not possible because we have this little thing called the Constitution which would preclude anything like that from ever happening.
During the debate, Cain was asked the following question: "Are American Muslims as a group less committed to the constitution than say Christians or Jews?"
Herman Cain's answer:
"First the statement was 'would I be comfortable with a Muslim in my administration.' Not that I wouldn't appoint one. That's the exact transcript. And I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims; those that are trying to kill us. And so when I said I wouldn't be comfortable I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us...I do not believe in Sharia law in American courts. I believe in American laws in American courts period. There have been instances in New Jersey and an instance in Oklahoma where a Muslim did try to influence court decisions with Sharia law. I will simply end by saying emphatically, American laws in American courts."
The fact of the matter is, no court in Oklahoma was ever faced with somebody trying to influence it with Sharia Law. Oklahoma preemptively passed legislation against the use of Sharia Law in its courts after Obama was elected. As if that could ever happen. To Cain's other point, in 2009, a New Jersey trial court judge refused to grant a woman a restraining order because of her husband's belief that having sex with him was required by his Islamic faith. The case was overturned on appeal and the appellate court in New Jersey specifically noted that U.S. law trumps any religious belief. All of that is to say that Herman Cain is not only severely misinformed about Muslim Americans, but he also indicated to the American people last night that he would allow his biases to color his decisions against American Muslims if elected President. Stated differently, Herman Cain singlehandedly sank his own Presidential campaign last night.
What were your takeaways from the debate last night?
Who do you think won or lost?