Worst debate moments:
For Governor Perry: Senator Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann totally taking him to school on the cervical cancer vaccine issue, with Mr. Santorum saying, "This is big government run amok," and Ms. Bachmann shooting back at Mr. Perry's "If you're saying I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended" line by saying she was offended for the little girls, who, unlike Mr. Perry, don't get a do-over.
For Governor Romney, his contention, "We need to have a Fed. If we don't have a Fed, who's gonna run the currency? Congress?" He clearly doesn't comprehend the Constitution, which assigns Congress precisely that responsibility.
For Governor Huntsman, clumsily accusing Perry of treason for not favoring a secure border. Also, the claim, "This country needs to wean itself from its heroin-like addiction to foreign oil." What's wrong with Canadian oil? The guy's against free trade. Also, pretty much the whole debate was a worst moment for Mr. Huntsman.
Best debate moments:
Speaker Gingrich says the way to fix Social Security is get back to a full-employment economy.
Governor Perry comments on President Obama's newly proposed $450 billion stimulus by noting that the last, $800 billion stimulus created zero jobs, and observing, "Half of zero jobs is gonna be zero jobs."
Governor Romney on President Obama's new $450 billion stimulus: "We've gone from a payphone world to a smartphone world. President Obama keeps jamming quarters in, thinking it's gonna work. It's not connected, Mr. President."
Governor Perry on job creation: "Tell the trial lawyers to get outta your state."
Herman Cain on his family origins, explaining that his father worked as a barber, janitor, and chauffeur, "all at the same time."
Senator Santorum accusing Rep. Ron Paul of "parroting what Osama Bin Laden said on 9/11."
Michele Bachmann got some new life. Governor Perry took some tough hits, both on the vaccine issue and on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, but both issues were previously known, if not to the broader electorate then at least to those who have been paying close attention. CNN's Wolf Blitzer did a good job, the best of any of the debates I have seen so far, in getting a substantive debate and letting the candidates ventilate the issues between them. Not one of these candidates, in the end, really bowls me over, and none is perfect, though any one of them would almost certainly be an improvement over the incumbent. Ron Paul is good on the economic stuff but terrible on foreign policy, a blame-America-first type. And he has no executive experience. It's going to be interesting to watch how they run not only their mouths during the debates but their campaign operations. A well-run campaign in terms of fundraising and field operations is a performance indicator that is worth watching almost as much as the ability to communicate on the issues. If we wind up with a President Romney or President Perry, it's still going to take a vigilant Congress, press corps, and advocacy group community to prevent them from reverting to their worst political instincts.