Not sure what I was expecting from front runner Rick Santorum, but his poor performance in tonight's CNN debate was not on my list of possibilities. Had Santorum performed this poorly before the Iowa Caucuses he would not have been on the stage tonight in Arizona.
Santorum seemed to know the attacks were going to come, but like a child overflinching before getting a shot, Santorum came out flailing. Mitt Romney is a mudslinging artist and love waller'n in the pigsty; that's his forte.
Ron Paul was Ron Paul and neither helped or hurt himself.
The clear winner tonight by staying on message and above the fray was Newt Gingrich (of whom I endorsed in December; just for full disclosure). Here's my quick take on how they finished:
Newt: A- Just about every answer Newt gave was classic Gingrich. Although he didn't get as much air time as Santorum and Romney, less was definitely more tonight, especially in how Newt wisely used his time. Whether this translates into primary victories is yet to be seen. But as the old saying goes, "Reports of Newt's demise are great exaggerated." Much to the consternation of the GOP Establishment, I might add.
Romney: B- Romney had a strong B until his blatant lies about Catholic Charities and charter schools in Massachusetts, and his smarmy and arrogant answer about any misconceptions he'd like to clear up. But then again, what he would like to clear up as misconceptions about him are actually inconvenient truths. Willard came across as the rich elitist he is.
Paul: C+ If foreign policy issues never came up Ron Paul may have already wrapped up the nomination. While I completely agree with Congressman Paul's statement about Congress' constitutional responsibility to declare war, his naivete about the threat of radical Islam and Shari'a law makes him my third choice behind Gingrich and Santorum. Nevertheless it is always pleasant to have Paul's quaint humor to lighten up the debate.
Santorum: C- Tonight was really painful to watch. Before Newt entered the debates Santorum was the most passionate and principled conservative in the race. I was leaning towards him until about the middle of December. To watch him at times mumble, stumble, and tumble in his responses was agonizing. Will this be the end of Santorum? May well be. I think he may have lost Michigan tonight and he clearly lost droves of Tea Partiers with his "politics is about being a team player sometimes" comment. I think tonight's debate performance completely changed the primary dynamic. It could easily be wide open again. Only time will tell.
Overall, this should be the last primary debate we will have to endure and we may well be on our way to a brokered convention, which I think would be great for the GOP. That no doubt brings total disbelief to the GOP establishment, but look for another blog post explaining why I believe that.