First of all the candidates have to take back control of these debates. The sponsors' zeal to use the latest, greatest, hippest, most social media (I typed "socialist," realized that may have had a different meaning) is distracting at best.
If the candidates knew that CNN was going to do that dopey "This or That" nonsense going into, and coming out of breaks, and if they agreed to it, they should fire whichever staffers agreed to it.
If they didn't know about it, one of them should have had the backbone to pull a Fred Thompson and simply refuse to play. In the debate in Iowa four years ago, the incompetent moderator asked for a show of hands about something. Thompson boomed, "Ain't gonna be no hand raisin' here today."
Next, who decided that the Presidency should be decided in thirty-second sound bites? Left to the cable nets, we would have policy papers written in 140-character Tweets.
John King spent the entire night sounding like he was clearing his throat because when you ask, "What should we do about housing?" it's impossible to answer in any meaningful way in thirty seconds.
Now to the candidates and how they did. Let me state for the record I have no favorite among the seven. In alphabetical order:
I had not seen Michelle Bachmann prior to tonight. She said she had filed her papers to officially join the race. After watching her, and cringing at just about every answer, my advice to her is to run down to the FEC first thing tomorrow morning and get them back.
Herman Cain makes a great overall impression, but it hangs over him that he has never had to help construct a complex piece of legislation; never had to cast a difficult vote; never been in public office. Because of the rules of engagement he, like his colleagues, did not have the ability to drill down on his answers. Because he doesn't have a public policy record, this worked against him more than the others.
Newt Gingrich had the most on the line and he survived. He knows a great deal about government and governing. He did slide off his "right-wing social engineering" line from Meet the Press, but his ability to put his views in an understandably and interesting way has never been the issue with Newt. I'm not sure if he can survive as a candidate, but he did well last night.
Ron Paul wins points for keeping the Libertarian faith stating his views in a non-threatening, and informed manner. The problem with Dr. Paul is he makes me think that if he were asked he would say that stop signs are unconstitutional. One of things we should look for in a President is an ability - if not a desire - to listen to points of view which are in opposition to what he or she originally held. Paul's performance was all Paul, but not Presidential.
Tim Pawlenty was given a chance by John King to land a punch by repeating his "ObmaneyCare" line from last Sunday. He didn't have the guts to do it and tried to turn it into an attack on Obama. I would have thought his team would have anticipated that question and come up with a better answer. In fact, given what he had on the line, I think Pawlenty was the loser of this debate.
Mitt Romney won the debate. Before you hit the SEND key, I am not a Romney supporter. He escaped incoming rhetorical salvos largely because not much was lobbed at him. Nevertheless he was poised, and confident. He has the advantage of having lasted through Florida four years ago, so he's dealt with all these questions before and, because he has been running non-stop, he has been able to hone his answers pretty well.
Rick Santorum probably won "Most Improved" in terms of his establishing himself as something more than a fringe candidate. He was in the GOP Senate leadership and knows a lot about the legislative process and the legislation it has produced. I was pleasantly surprised by his performance.