But the question remains - who came out on top and who needs to pack it up? Winners and losers after the jump:
Mitt Romney - Businessman and former Governor of Massachusetts
Don't call it a comeback, 'cause he's been here for years! Yes, folks, Mitt "Guy Smiley" Romney may have given up the #1 spot to Herman Cain in some of the recent polls...and he may have also given up the #1 spot to Rick Perry in not so recent polls...and he may have yet again given up the #1 spot to Michelle Bachmann in the polls from the summer...and - well you get the point. But damnit, he's back and badder than ever. At this point, when you look behind the scenes at the major financial backers within the Republican field, the money trail leads to Romney. The Republican audience in Nevada seemed to hone in on this fact; they booed at Rick Perry when he went negative against Romney, but they applauded Romney for going negative against Perry. However, let's not get ahead of ourselves - Romney still cannot get over the magical 23-25% range in the polls. There is still something about Romney that does not sit well with Republican voters who have given every indication that they would rather have anybody -- even the governor of New Jersey -- enter the race than give the nod to Romney. Nevertheless, Romney hit back last night when fired upon and he never missed an opportunity to "correct the record" with his own rehearsed talking points. Perhaps the highlight of the evening is when Romney let the air out of Herman Cain's flagship "999" economic plan by plainly pointing out for the audience that Cain's plan will require consumers to pay a state sales tax AND a federal sales tax on the same item; Cain, seemingly thinking this whole 999 thing through for the first time ever, critically had no substantive response for Romney. Another interesting point that CNN seized on last night - religion. Up until now, you wouldn't even know that Romney is a Mormon. He never talks about it because he knows that as soon as his Mormonism becomes the center of the debate, he will have lost the social conservatives (aka the Tea Party). Even if he survives the Republican primary, this may still prove to be a liability in the general election.
Rick Santorum - U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania
He doesn't have a snowballs' chance in hell of winning the Republican nomination, but that didn't stop Rick Santorum from going H.A.M. on both Cain and Romney. All BS aside, Santorum gave about the best possible sales pitch that a candidate in Santorum's position could give. He distinguished himself from the rest of the crowd when he reminded the audience that he and he alone was the only candidate on the stage who has won a key battleground state -- Pennsylvania -- which will be critical for the republicans come 2012. He also had the best answer ready when the rest of the candidates stumbled on what the Republican message should be to the Latino community. That being said, Santorum's problem last night is the same problem he's had every night: nobody cares. So you won in Pennsylvania - who cares? So you have conservative family values - who cares? So you're a Catholic - who cares? In short, there's nothing interesting about Santorum's personal story that resonates with the GOP base or anybody else for that matter. He's about as plain vanilla as vanilla gets. Expect him to quickly announce his withdrawal from the race after Iowa. That being said, we should give credit where credit is due because, after all, his debate performance last night was well played.
Herman Cain - Businessman
Despite making a good run in the polls, last night more than likely marked the end of an era for Black Walnut. His fellow Republican contenders made sure that the 999 gravy train came to an end last night as they tore Cain's plan apart. All 6 candidates took a shot at the 999 plan, some more successfully than others. Cain responded by saying that “It is a jobs plan, it is revenue-neutral, it does not raise taxes on those that are making the least.” However, as Santorum pointed out, the Tax Policy Center recently crunched the numbers and calculated that 84% of taxpayers would pay more taxes under the 999 plan. Moreover, families making less than $30,000/year would be hit the hardest while the highest income families would actually get a tax break. In short, it would take the current tax burden and shift it from the rich down onto the poor, or as Cain would say, the "po." Bachmann took her opportunity to pour salt in the wound by reminding the Republican crowd that an introduction of a new federal tax would be a gateway for disaster, and Perry chimed in with "Herman, I love you, brother, but you don't need to have a big analysis to figure this thing out." Cain could have saved the integrity of his 999 plan in the public's eye if he had actually come prepared to talk facts, but at the end of the day, Herman "I don't have the facts to back this up" Cain doesn't like to deal with facts. He likes to "keep it real." Real dumb that is. He deals in bold and unfounded assertions that he invariably has to try to dial back or play off as "a joke" after somebody runs them through the fact checker. To be clear, politicians do this sort of thing all the time, but where Cain gets himself in trouble is that he fails to grasp the most basic of facts - like the fact that it is the policy of the United States government not to negotiate with terrorists. Look for Black Walnut to get cracked after the 2nd/3rd primary loss.
"Rambling Man" Rick Perry started to have another episode again last night while trying to recite some of his prepared talking points. For a guy who's never lost an election in 25 years, he sure seems to have a difficult time in a debate. Perry needed a win here. It didn't happen. This isn't to say that he performed terribly. In fact, his performance was easily better than his last last 2 debates (which Romney clowned him on last night BTW), but his attempts to go negative on Romney seemed to bounce back against him, as if Romney was a kid on the playground chanting the proverbial "I'm rubber, You're glue" curse. He did manage to gain some ground with conservatives by taking a hard line position against immigration and calling for more "boots on the ground" to protect the boarder between Texas and Mexico, but at the end of the day he never really managed to lay a glove on Romney - except for the time that he mentioned that Romney employed an illegal immigrant. That has the potential to gain some traction over the weeks leading up to the primaries. Perry does, however, have financial support from the base. Even though he might be sliding down in the polls, he's not going to be an easy candidate to beat. It is not difficult to imagine Perry and Romney battling it out on Super Tuesday in March after the initial primary state contests have resulted in a draw between the two of them.
Michelle Bachmann - Minnesota Congresswoman
Bachmann clearly has a new campaign strategy - talk shit about Obama on every possible occasion about every possible issue no matter what. (reminds us of a few other people we know). The rationale here is that conservative voters like to hear Republican candidates bash Obama, so she hopes that by doing this she will raise herself out of her single-digit doldrums. Perry's introduction into the race as the resident Tea Party candidate rendered Crazy Eyes all but irrelevant. At this point she has nothing else to do but go negative on Obama, Perry, Romney, Cain and anybody else that will get her name in the headlines. Good luck with that.
THE "WHY ARE THEY STILL HERE?" CATEGORY:
Ron Paul - Texas Congressman
Hey, the guy's entertaining but seriously..."buh-bye."
Newt Gingrich - former Speaker of the House
Newt hits all the right talking points, but the GOP base has taken the position "we don't believe you, you need more people."
60 SECOND RECAP VIDEO:
What were your take away moments from the election?
Does Romney have the nomination sewed up?
Will Perry rise again?
Has Cain peaked?