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Posted by on Oct 18, 2011 in Economy, Politics | 11 comments

Live Blogging of CNN Western Republican Leadership Conference Debate in Las Vegas, NV (UPDATED)

Here is live blogging of tonight’s CNN Western Republican Leadership Conference debate in Las Vegas, NV. This debate could have more serious consequences than others. Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain is surging in the polls and even the front runner in several but some analysts contend he is “strolling for President” — not taking seriously enough the need for solid policy positions that hold up to tough scrutiny, refusing to reveal core group of advisers, and not even having the infrastructure in place to mount a serious campaign. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has fizzled due to his frankly lousy performance in polls (ill prepared, awkward, lethargic and unable to rebound when he is challenged on assertion or attack). Some think he still can be a front runner due to his huge campaign war chest. And then there’s former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: a front runner seemingly unable to go above a certain percentage in the polls, the person in the phrase “anti-Romney” — the search by conservatives and Tea Party movement members to find someone who they can trust. And then there is the lingering question: is Romney going to be denied the nomination due to attempts to whip up anti-Mormonism? One press report suggested the Perry campaign may dive into this fetid area of politics. The others? Few suggest that — at this point — they will be more than also rans.

Look for Cain and Romney to come under particular attack tonight. Cain will be tested (is he a “serious” candidate?). Romney will be tested (again): he’s a candidate who seems better and better with each performance…but will it matter? And Perry needs a stellar performance (on the attack and defense) to rebound.

My focus how the participants come across in the race and the possible impact on independents voters — who are not a monolithic group — rather than who I agree with or not. These are the reactions of an independent voter who has been in both parties. The most recent entry will be on top. Also: my actual conclusions are often NOT the same as my initial conclusions after a debate. The more I “digest” what saw and heard, the more definitive my conclusions are. Here’s my initial reaction of the debate going on right now. ALL TIMES ARE EST.

MY QUICK REACTION. This is the first, gut reaction which may change as I think about what I saw in this peppery, often angry debate where Mitt Romney was under fire more than Cain. I agree with David Gergen on CNN:”The Obama team tonight will be celebrating.”

Herman Cain: Held his own well. His poll ascent will likely continue. Cain is emerging as the anti-Romney.
Mitt Romney: On the defensive but handled attacks sufficiently, and well.
Rick Perry: Better but not good enough to stem Cain ascent. More energetic. Prepared. Back in contention — but will it be enough?
The others:
Newt Gingrich: a good night but he doesn’t have a chance.
Rick Santorum: feisty but seemed more like a candidate running for City Council or school board.
Michele Bachmann: Am concluding I’d rather go to the dentist and have two root canals than to hear her slip into a clear, telegraphed boiler plate line designed to get a cheer from the audience.
Ron Paul. Was Ron Paulish.

TMV readers are welcomed to leave their own take on this debate in comments.

For the UPDATE go to the BOTTOM of this post for some more links to debate coverage comments and a few quotes from websites

9:49: Cain. Says Romney has distinguished career. Says Romney’s business experience has been Wall Street, while his has been “main street.” If he runs against Obama would be “the problem solver who fixes stuff versus the President who hasn’t fixed anything.” Romney gives a bit of his resume but does not attack Cain. Says his experience main street. Bachmann: interrupts Cooper to give boilerplate line about Obama one term President, site Reagan. Bachmann is grating. Gingrich: feels he is the strongest due to “substance” and would have Lincoln Douglas debates — 7 3 hour debates.

9:44: Cooper on polls and question of who can best beat Obama. These answers will be likely meaningless as they each promote themselves and diss the others. Unless there’s a barn burner. I’ll skip an entry on this. Chiropractors should get lots of work as they pat themselves on the back and sprain some muscles. Santorum arm is about to disconnect from his body since he’s patting his own back so hard. Romney makes the case that he can beat Obama and get the country on the right track — and he can do that since he has not spent his whole life in politics, but worked in the private sector and created jobs. I expect Perry to go on the attack. Perry: look in the past at Romney’s record. Compares Texas job creation versus Texas. Also argues he could draw a “bright contrast” with Obama. Romney notes that Perry was the chairman of Al Gore’s campaign running against George Bush and how he got his state’s employment rate down. Also said Perry should tell people 40 percent of the jobs in Texas were created for illegal aliens. Perry insists Texas has led the nation in job creation. Perry says he has it and Romney “failed” as Governor. Perry says his employment rate was lower (employment envy?).

9:41: The comments about negotiating with terrorists stem from Cain’s comments to CNN that he would consider negotiating with terrorists under certain circumstances. Cain is now finessing his comment and walking it back. But he has done this smoothly, not awkwardly. That’s a separate issue from being accurate or truthful. It shows he has political skills. But in a general election comments could appear in campaign ads and you can’t walk an assertion back as easily.

9:37: Paul would cut all foreign aid including to Israel. Oh, that would REALLY help the GOP in the elections. Yep. Bachmann pivots going on attack on Cain as “naive” for even considering releasing a hostage. Cain: repeats we don’t negotiate with hostages. Again, he handles attacks very smoothly and politely. It isn’t just likeability that will help him. He responds just enough and then offers a little more. Santorum and Perry might do well to emulate him in debates.

9:30: On negotiating to get a hostage back. Cain says his policy would be not negotiating with terrorists, but you’d have to look at each situation and look at the facts. Cain is indicating that he will look at info. I think this will help him with some voters. Santorum: absolutely not negotiate with terrorism.

9:34: It had to happen. Perry calls for defunding the United Nations.

9:26: I have to admit on a personal basis. I am absolutely turned off by Michelle Bachmann. She’s going for cheer lines and avoids the question posed to her. Perhaps because it’s I was a newsman for many years, I really am turned off by candidates who simply will not answer a question. Gingrich blasts both parties on national security budget. Gingrich is having one of his best nights, mincing no words. Too bad he has so much baggage that TSA wants to inspect him.

9:20: Cooper asks questions about Romney’s religion accused of being a cult and whether religion should be an issue. Santorum says the values are important and the tenants and teaching of the faith. Good answer. Gingrich: “Does faith matter? Absolutely.” Talks about constitution. But says should not judge on how others approach God. OK answer but effectively says an atheist should not be President. Cooper asks Perry why not he has repudiated the comments. Perry says he doesn’t agree with the pastor’s statement. Then launches into boilerplate. Has not said “YES I REPUDIATE IT.” He doesn’t want to lose that support. Says he didn’t agree with it and the loss of faith is in Obama. Romney says he’s heard worse about his faith. But notes Pastor said that people should be chosen by their religion was the “most troubling.” Good comment on freedom of religion. Probably his best response so far. Says he wanted Perry to say “no no that’s wrong.” Cooper asks if he’d still like Perry to say that. Perry says he already responded and didn’t agree with the remarks. Romney gains most by his statement. Did not try to batter Perry over the head with it.

9:17: Break my reactions.
–RIP compassionate conservatism. Definitively. Listening to Cain and others its easy to believe that the Bush family is shaking their heads. If Jeb runs in 2016 it’s unlikely he’d be as dismissive of struggling Americans.
–Not Romeny’s best night. Perry is better and perhaps with his huge campaign chest that may be enough to knock out Cain and undercut Romney more with conservatives. Bachmann increasingly tiresome and almost by rote. Santorum much better.

9:13: Romney says issue is how Obama has made it harder for economy to reboot. Rattles off some eco stats. “Americans are hurting and he’s out there campaigning? Why isn’t he governing?” Still, he sounds like he’s reciting his debate prep.

9:09: Stands by comments about poor and struggling only have themselves to blame re Occupy Wall Street and gives his response about blaming the White House. Paul note Cain is blaming “the victims” and says part of the blame goes to both parties, the federal reserve — and that both parties bailed out all the banks, etc. “Who got stuck? The middle class got stuck, They lost their jobs. They lost their houses. If you had to give money you should have given it to the people losing their mortgages.” Paul is coming on strong. Too bad he takes some positions that toss him out of the mainstream. He doesn’t sound like he’s vomiting up debate prep.

9:05: Santorum versus Perry on Tarp. Santorum says he urged a vote for it. Perry says not true he sent a letter. Romney: responds with boilerplate conservative point on markets working rather than relying on governments. Bland response. Cain: says he supported concept with Tarp but was against it after administration acted in ways he did not like. Good answer. I suspect many will consider this a win for Cain because he is holding his own and unflappable. Bachmann good on foreclosures and the pain of women losing their houses. If she had used this more thoughtful strain she’d do well. But then she veers into campaign rhetoric and obliterates the comments.

9:02: Perry stronger in this debate. But probably not enough to halt defections to Cain. Prediction: Perry will launch ads going after Romney for hiring an illegal alien (despite facts of how Romney responded).

8:56: Perry refuses to answer Anderson Cooper’s question about changing the constitution re those born in the U.S. When he doesn’t answer a question it hurts him: particularly since it’s related to his past comments about having a heart. He goes after Obama but still does not answer Cooper’s question. Cooper asks again about repealing the amendment. Perry answers no. Bachmann now gets back on “anchor babies” concept. Santorum: stresses country built on family and faith and marriage. Touts himself as the “one candidate” who consistently defends families and would be appealing to Latinos. Talking points.

8:55: Am concluding Perry and Romney are both a bit overprepared with attacks and responses. Neither are hitting the spot just right. I suspect Cain’s numbers will go up. He also looks the most dignified among the three.

8:49: Perry is very strong on the illegal issue. He correctly notes that he has had to deal with this issue. If Perry could respond on other issues the way he does on this, he’d be higher in the poll. Romney adds line about everyone supporting legal immigration. His description of how to control illegal immigration nothing that new. Romney line bombs: saying Perry has experience like college coach who has lost games. Bad line. Perry responds again on illegals. Boos. Boos against Perry or Romney? This is an old story that came out years ago. Will that stick? Neither Perry or Romney are having stellar nights.

8:46: Cain handles question on his comment about an electrified border fence enough to defuse it. Perry says fences are too costly. The better way is a “virtual defense zone” with strategic fencing. Real way to stop the illegal flow, Perry says, is to put “boots on the ground.” Perry is better talking about this since it doesn’t sound as much like a scripted attack line. He’s also offering several options. Bachmann talks about Obama’s relatives who are illegal. She increasingly strikes me as a highly provincial candidate. (Ed Rollins: you made a good decision so breathe a sigh of relief..) She would also “enforce” English as the official language. How will she do that? Do their tongues get fined?

8:41: Perry sings the praises of health care in Texas and pivots to illegal aliens, coming because of “a magnet called jobs.” Says those who hire illegals should be penalized. Accuses Romney of hiring an illegal aliens working on his property.. Romney tries respond and Perry tries to shout him down. Is THIS the new Republican debate technique? You shout down the other and don’t let then answer. This is a HUGE TURN OFF. My reaction when someone does that is: what are they afraid of? Perry berates Romney for hiring illegals. Romney responds Perry interrupts. “You have a problem with letting people respond.” Perry looks really bad to THIS independent voter because it’s like he’s trying to prevent an answer to an assertion. Perry seems primed for attack but not primed to ad lib. He needs a script in debates.

8:40: Note that I will not do entries on very comments. A lot of what I am hearing is boilerplate.

8:34: BREAK: My impressions so far:
–Cain holds his own under fire.
–Romney doesn’t do as well under fire and is on the defensive. Does not obliterate criticism.
–Perry is more aggressive and prepared but still seems to be reciting material. He is not exciting or motivating.
–Santorum needs to watch less cable news screamfest political shows and review how debates work. Debate can get passionate but just shouting someone else down is not the way it is done.
–Gingrich is having a good night.
–Bachmann is going nowhere new.
–Ron Paul is Ron Paul

8:31: Gingrich says “your plan essentially is one more big government, bureaucratic, high cost system which could not be done by any other state” due to other big government money behind it. Romney: “Actually we got the idea of an individual mandate from you. ” Gingrich says it’s absolutely false. This issue of whether he got it from Gingrich could be one Romney’s foes latch onto. Was he correct about this or not?

8:30: Romney’s answer is that people of Massachusetts like it “by a three to one margin.” It’s clear this issue is where Romney remains most vulnerable, but not because some other candidate is trying to shout him down. Romney’s response not as good as in past.

8:27: Santorum on attack on Romney due to his health care plan in Massachusetts. Romney repeats position he has said in other debates. Santorum not letting Romney speak. He has been watching too much of Hannity. Hey, Mr. Santorum: there are rules. Just shouting down Romney will not get you votes. ENGAGE him on his ideas — by letting him speak.

8:25: Perry talks about the glories of his jobs plan which is about energy independence. Romney says energy independence is the “right idea…the Governor is also right.” Again Romney manages to whip out a variety of factoids and ideas. Some sound like talking points (which they all are) but taken together he still sounds like an extremely well prepared candidate to run for President. Santorum seems more solid in this debate than in others.

8:24: Bachmann talks about Obama’s plan is for destruction of the economy. This kind of framing, even if it is not how she meant it to come out, would lose many independent voters. (Incompetence is not the same as intentional).

8:21: The debate remains about Cain. Gingrich says Cain is “at least talking about things that matter.” But, Gingrich says, “there are much more complexities than Herman lets on.” Gingrich shows he can talk substance What a pity he didn’t nurture that part of his persona instead of the rhetorical bomb thrower.

8:19: Romney criticizes. Cain: “You’re doing the same thing they’re doing. You’re mixing apples and oranges.” Romney veers to unemployment, falling home prices. Slides into his own tax ideas. “The analysis I did person by person..middle income people see higher taxes under your plan.” Gets all of his talking points out very fast but effectively.

8:17: Perry says Cain’s plan won’t fly. Cain again unflappable and says Perry’s take is mixing “apples and oranges…So, you’re absolutely wrong…” Ron Paul confirms he called the Cain plan “dangerous” and is also “a regressive tax.” Cain holds up very well under criticism and it may help him. Perry seemed to wither or not answer in past debates. Cain won’t waver (which some voters may find troubling) from a position. “None of my colleagues understand the plan,” he says. Cain talks with confidence, not talking with anger.

8:12: Bachmann on her tax plan, jobs plan etc. Stock stuff. Cane simply denies all charges about his 9-9-9. Doesn’t conceeed any problems with it. Santorum says “Herman’s well meaning” but pokes holes in Cane’s plan. “We’re talking about major increases in taxes and people and he also doesn’t have anything to take care of families…He doesn’t do that..I give him credit for starting a debate but it’s not good for families…” Cane: “That simply is not true. I invite people to look at our analysis.” YES, Mr. Cain. You offer an analysis but others may differ. Dismisses critics as “knee jerk analysis.” Bachmann comes back strong on criticism of Cain plan

8:08: Campaign introductions are supposed to be short. Rick Santorum a nice personal intro, doesn’t sound like spin. Ron Paul champion of “liberty.” Boilerplate. Herman Cain: good description as a business “which means I solve problems for a living.” Romney also talks about business, fun of running the Olympics and Governor. Sounds like he’s echoing Cane. Perry calls himself “an authentic conservative not a conservative of convenience.” He’s on the attack already. Gingrich swipes at Obama on Vegas and also says he’ll replace “class warfare.” Etc. Bachmann has a witty intro. Best ones Santorum, Cane, Romney. Perry makes it clear he’ll be coming out strong.

A few quick links and quotes.
Live blogging from Paris at The First Casualty
The Daily Kos had live blogging as well, in the form of various posts. Here’s part of the last entry:
6:57 PM PT: More than any other debate, my sense is that any non-Republican watching this debate would have mortified to see the clowns the GOP has on stage. Romney once again was the quickest on his feet, but he was also too quick, making the second big gaffe in as many days when he said he had told his lawn care company they couldn’t hire undocumented workers because he was running for office. Cain got brutalized. I’d say Perry actually did well in that he came alive and really wasn’t the target of the debate, but if you think about the substance of what he said, he certainly didn’t help himself with anyone outside the GOP.

6:58 PM PT: So, yes, net/net: Barack Obama wins the debate by TKO. 10-0.
The Politico:

Mitt Romney found himself under a fierce assault from his primary opponents for the first time in the 2012 race during Tuesday night’s GOP debate, with multiple rivals assailing him over his record on health care.

Two of Romney’s opponents on the right – Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich – laced into Romney for signing a law that they said resembles the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law loathed by conservatives

–Here’s a chunk of the must-read-in-full analysis by one of my favorite analysts, The Huffington Post’s Howard Finenman:

The winners of tonight’s GOP debate: Herman Cain and President Obama. With the devastating accuracy of a CIA drone, the Republican candidates zeroed in on their own party’s chances with exchanges that played right into Democrats’ hands on a series of issues, from immigration to taxes.

And while Mitt Romney and Rick Perry behaved like petulant, name-calling schoolboys, Herman Cain (“I actually cleaned the parking lot”) handled with dignity a half-hour assault on his 999 plan, with which CNN began the debate.

Attempting to out-do each other in their antagonism to illegals, the GOP candidates honed in on the toughest possible sanctions and military measures for 15 minutes before someone thought to mention that the party had respect for legal immigration — and for the Hispanic community.

They missed chance after chance to discuss anything specific about how they would help create jobs — the country’s number one concern.

They dabbled in talk of cutting aid to Israel — exactly what Obama needed to help him shore up support among Jewish voters.

And they sparred for half an hour about a tax plan — Cain’s, which would add a national sales tax and that would, according to Republicans themselves, be a regressive tax that would hit the poor hardest.

All of that is good news to a beleaguered Obama, whose reelection strategy relies on shoring up his base, attracting Hispanic voters and winning back independents who tend to eschew extreme answers.

Meanwhile, Cain outshone the two nominal frontrunners — Perry and Romney — by acting the role of statesman and never losing his cool. Now safely ensconced at or near the top of the polls, Cain is growing in confidence and command on the stage, even if the numbers of his tax plan don’t add up.

Perry and Romney sniped at each other in a way that did neither of them any good.

Fineman’s piece is REQUIRED READING. Go to the link and read it in its entirety.

–Here’s part of Eric Ericson’s post on Red State, which also needs to be read in full:

1. Where has this Rick Perry been? Finally, the guy showed up with unscripted, from the gut answers. The few scripted answers fell flat (see e.g. Jeffres). The rest were good. He’s not the best debater. But he certainly did not lose that debate.

2. Rick Santorum is too angry to be President and came across as a jerk to everyone. Rick Santorum conveniently forgot to mention he got his butt kicked in Pennsylvania, was not a fiscal conservative, and endorsed Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey.

3. This debate hurts Mitt Romney more than anyone else. Why? Because the candidates started piling on him. A lot of polling seemed to indicate that voters were getting ready to settle. This pile on and the Newt-Santorum-Cain-Perry pile on of Romney “lying” will keep voters from settling for him. He got flustered tonight for the first time. Perry got under his skin. I don’t know where so many enthusiastic Romney supporters came from, but though he was cheered on stage by the crowd, he was clearly flustered.

4. As the candidates were piling on Romney for Romneycare, Captain Stubing . . . er . . . Michele Bachmann . . . interjected and totally shut down that line of attack. Was she returning the favor for Mitt’s lifeline at the last debate?

5. Herman Cain continues to shine as the great optimist. He stayed upbeat with a sense of humor. But this debate showed his serious weak point — foreign policy. He is going to have to seriously, seriously beef up by the next CNN debate, which will be a foreign policy debate.

Andy Borowitz on Twitter:

BorowitzReport Andy Borowitz
#GOPDebate Winners and Losers: Winner: The Vegas hooker Rick Perry hires tonight. Loser: Everyone who watched.

BorowitzReport Andy Borowitz
Didn’t see #GOPDebate, but let me guess: Cain said a lot of number 9 and Perry spewed a lot of number 2.

BorowitzReport Andy Borowitz
Sorry I stopped live-blogging #GOPDebate. Decided to pull out toenails with pliers instead.

–A few tweets by Political Scientist Larry Sabato, one of the country’s most astute political analysts:

LarrySabato Larry Sabato
Lots of video clips for Obama team to use. TV ad fodder for Rs in IA & NH, too.

LarrySabato Larry Sabato
This Prof’s Grades (con’t): Cain split= B+ image, C substance. Gingrich A- (his format). Santorum B. Paul & Bachmann C.
31 minutes ago

LarrySabato Larry Sabato
This Prof’s Grades: Romney B (his lowest yet, somewhat off game b/c of so many attacks). Perry B-/C+ (highest grade yet, improving).

The Frum Forum:

Ultimately, this debate likely weakened Herman Cain, but the title of “Not Romney” is still up for grabs

New York Times:

Mitt Romney came under withering attack from his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination at a debate here Tuesday night, with Gov. Rick Perry leading an intense and sometimes personal barrage against him on conservative consistency, health care policy and even the immigration status of yard workers at his home.

The most contentious of all of the debates so far, it made Mr. Romney a target for the six other Republicans on stage with him, and signaled the start of a tough new phase of the campaign little more than two months before the first votes are cast.

Under attack from multiple flanks, Mr. Romney responded aggressively and sometimes testily, raising his voice and once, after Mr. Perry spoke over him, turning to the debate moderator, Anderson Cooper of CNN, to plead, “Anderson?”

While President Obama came in for his share of criticism, the Republican field spent most of its time challenging one another, with almost all the candidates facing questions on some of their biggest vulnerabilities.

Los Angeles Times:

Things got heated in Tuesday night’s Republ

ican presidential debate when Rick Perry, who seemed determined to pick a fight with Mitt Romney, steered the conversation to immigration and Romney’s ties to a company that employed illegal immigrants.

“The idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration, is on its face the height of hypocrisy,” Perry said as he turned to face Romney.

The accusation — based on a 2006 Boston Globe report that Romney had hired a landscaping company that employed illegal immigrants — sparked a heated exchange between the two.

“It’s been a couple of tough debates for Rick,” Romney said. “And I understand that. So you’re going to get testy.”

Turning to the immigration topic, Romney accused Perry of luring illegal immigrants to Texas by allowing their children to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges.

“You said I don’t want to build a fence,” Romney said. “You talk about magnets — you put in place a magnet.”

From Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging:

9.57 pm. The bottom line: Cain trod water, but his plan sank. Santorum excelled at forensics but probably shouldn’t be touting his skill at winning swing states when he lost Pennsylvania the last time around by 16 points. Ron Paul outdid himself by bringing up Iran-Contra. Bachmann seems to have one decibel level, around 11, and seems to assume that it is now a given that an incumbent president equally polling his major rivals is already a dead electoral letter. Gingrich made sense on Yucca Mountain, I think. Perry gave petulance a whole new universe of meaning, and was so personal with Romney he lost the crowd. I wonder if Romney will appeal to Western Republicans more than Southern ones. But this felt to me like a settling. On Romney. And learning to like it.

The moment of hope? Romney’s defense of no religious litmus tests in American politics. I wish I could be as certain of the sincerity of this if he weren’t a Mormon but an evangelical.

–A chunk of Howard Kurtz’s post on The Daily Beast:

Herman Cain quickly found himself being pummeled at Tuesday night’s CNN debate, even as his rivals preceded their punches with words of praise, and his “read my plan” defense was strikingly weak.

But after those opening moments, it was Mitt Romney who took over the event with a series of toe-to-toe exchanges—with Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and, most vociferously, Rick Perry—in which he stood his ground and refused to be talked over.

Perhaps such things shouldn’t matter, but by keeping his cool and forcing his rivals to stop interrupting him, Romney projected an image of strength—and cemented his status as the man to beat. He undoubtedly bested the Las Vegas spread in what had to be his most animated debate performance this year.

The contrast with Cain was unmistakable. The Hermanator simply insisted that critics of his 9-9-9 tax plan were wrong and he was right, although he acknowledged on Meet the Press that some people’s taxes would in fact go up under his proposal.

The other candidates took pains to credit Cain—Gingrich for his “courage,” Perry saying “I love you, brother”—but the consensus was that his tax plan was a bust. Cain kept insisting the barbs were “apples and oranges,” turning his answers into fruit salad.

Perry easily turned in his most energetic and focused performance after a series of stumbling outings, but it mattered little. For one thing, he repeated last week’s puzzling debate tactic of touting a plan—in this case, to create jobs—that he hasn’t yet announced. For another, he lost the night’s most dramatic exchange when he repeatedly tried to drown out Romney, and the former Massachusetts governor demanded that he be allowed to finish until Perry finally yielded the floor.

-Paul Begala on The Daily Beast:

Mitt Romney, who seems so poll-driven, who robotically spouts canned lines, seemed to let go a little in the CNN debate in Las Vegas….. Mitt is already the best debater in the field, and tonight he finally trusted his instincts.

…..But Romney also displayed a whiny side. He repeatedly squabbled with Rick Perry, but instead of standing his ground or talking over Perry, he often turned to debate moderator Anderson Cooper. I’ve coached more debates than I can count, and you never whine to the moderator that someone broke the rules. Is Mitt going to do that when Putin blathers on? Will he whine to the U.N. secretary-general that Iranian madman Ahmadinejad went over the time limit?

Perhaps the real Romney is what we saw tonight: a man who is a gifted debater, a man who is strong in his faith, but who is also a bit of a whiner when someone punches him in the nose. I hope President Obama watches these debates. He’s gonna have his hands full if Mitt is the nominee. But if Obama hits him hard enough, he’ll draw blood.

Oh: and Sarah Palin declares Newt Gingrich the winner..

UPDATE: (Wednesday):
Be sure to read Stephen Green aka VodkaPundit’s live blogging of the debate in full here. He calls it “drunkblogging.”
The Guardian’s Tim Stanley thinks the debate spells the end of Perry:

Mitt started to give an explanation [about hiring an illegal alien], saying that he had employed two sets of workers a year apart that turned out to be illegal. In a rare moment of candour, he expressed his reaction thus: “I said, ‘I’m running for office for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals.’” Perry should have stopped and thought about the amorality of that statement, but instead he kept needlessly interrupting. “You’re gonna get testy,” Mitt told him, and the audience loved it. Perry stepped up the interruptions. Romney turned his rudeness into a character issue. “You know, if you wanna become President of the United States,” he said, “You gotta let both people speak.” The audience roared with laughter and Perry flinched. That was his cue to shut up.

Incredibly, Perry came back for more. After Michele Bachmann was done making the case for a East German style “double wall” along the border, Perry said that the number one problem in America was people like Mitt who employ illegal aliens. The spectators booed. “I think we’ve been down that road sufficiently,” said Romney. “And I think the audience agrees with me.”

The debate on immigration is what the press will be discussing on Wednesday morning. But the bigger damage was done later during a question on Mormons. It was Rick Perry’s chance to apologise for what his friend Pastor Jeffress had said about them being a “cult”. Perry did begin by saying that he “didn’t agree with that individual’s statement.” But he followed this with a rambling, incoherent defence of Jeffress’s freedom of speech. It probably wasn’t meant that way, but it sounded like he was expressing sympathy for the view that voters should at least consider the religion of a candidate before voting for them. Whether Republicans will regard his answer as creepy or cynical, they won’t like it. Once again, the televised debate has switched the focus away from Romney’s weaknesses and on to Rick Perry’s lack of class.

With Perry’s collapse and Herman Cain’s gaffes, the race on the Right of the GOP is back on. Bachmann had a good debate in which she appealed directly to “moms” watching at home. Newt Gingrich shone as a voice of wisdom and might bounce into third position. Ron Paul will have pleased his base and maybe won a percentage or two for his brilliant answer about what to replace the income tax with (“Nothing.”) For this reviewer, the most exciting performances have been consistently put in by Rick Santorum. It’s a Catholic thing: his argument that the GOP must speak about more than just money appeals to us social traditionalists.

But the bottom line is that this was a bad night for Perry and a good one for Romney. Republicans watching the playbacks will note that he can survive the cheapest of attacks and still look presidential. A lot of people think Mitt’s a phony, but he’s also smooth, smart and super experienced. I, for one, would happily buy a used car from that man.

Go the link and read it in full.

–Time’s Mark Halperin grades the debaters.

–A good roundup HERE on Newser.