1) No one has really tagged Mitt Romney yet. I'm not even sure if anyone is really trying that hard. The candidate that WILL probably go after Romney directly will arrive Saturday.
2) While the back and forth between Michelle Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty was certainly entertaining, I thought the exchanges between Rick Santorum and Ron Paul were equally so...
3) I thought the guys from Fox News did a terrific job moderating it. Best job by a mile of the first three debates. Tough questions were asked, especially some I didn't expect (Chris Wallace's "gotcha question" about Gingrich losing his staff was great.)
4) John Huntsman seems like a pretty interesting guy. John Huntsman does not however, look anything remotely close to a serious Presidential candidate. I think Huntsman goes bye-bye in the next sixty days or so...
5) Newt Gingrich was plenty feisty last night, but just seems to be one of two cranky old guys in the room. The proverbial "toothpaste is out of the tube" and I'll be surprised if the former Speaker can put it back in anytime soon.
6) I liked Ron Paul's responses the best, by far...His remarks on bringing our troops home and Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon were probably the most mature things I heard all night...Mind you, those same comments probably destroyed any shred of hope he was clinging to. (How long till the "Ron Paul is no friend of Israel" comments start?)
7) Rick Santorum had his best performance this far. He's on message, projecting some forcefulness and did as much as any other person on stage to improve his chances. He'll be around a while it seems, although don't confuse that with a belief that he can win the nomination. He won't. Santorum's campaign will also likely be hurt by the entry of Perry to the race this weekend.
8) Michelle Bachmann, I thought, slipped some last night from her previous debates. While sparring with Pawlenty, she made a few false statements about TPaw's record, which may or may not come to light over the next few days. Its certainly more ammo for her fellow Minnesotan. As with Romney and Santorum, the Bachmann campaign will be hurt substantially when Rick Perry joins the fray.
9) Herman Cain seemed to fumble on some questions and I'm just not sure how well his "I know more now than the last time we debated" line will play. I don't see him as a long term candidate. I may be proven wrong, but I don't see a path forward to victory for him.
10) Fox Anchor Brett Baier asked if any candidates would endorse a deficit reduction plan that included any tax increases. ALL said no. He then rephrased and said what if the ration was slanted heavily towards spending cuts but still included a small tax increase...such as for every dollar in new taxes, there would be ten dollars in cuts? Still, no GOP candidate raised their hand in approval. If former President Reagan could raise taxes several times during a period not remotely close to the fiscal emergencies we're experiencing now, why can't a single candidate endorse even the theoretical notion of a 10:1 ratio of cuts/taxes?
Answer? Grover Norquist and his anti tax pledge, the Tea Party and Right Wing talk radio...
Summary: A GOP debate this early doesn't mean a great deal, but I suggest it means more that Saturday's straw poll will. I heard nothing said last night that indicated anyone laid a glove on Romney. I thought Bachmann/Tpaw and Santorum/Paul were entertaining, but chances are very, very slim that any of those four will be the nominee. Huntsman, Cain and Gingrich seem to be filler right now. That leaves Texas Governor Rick Perry as the most viable threat to the Romney express. Sarah Palin is not running, but will be a factor, for sure...I think she aligns more closely with Perry than she does Romney, so I anticipate a tag team of Perry and Palin going after Romney before Memorial Day next year. The deck can be reshuffled at any time, especially if a scandal emerges from one of the higher profile campaigns, so stay tuned.