The newcomer to the ring is former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, who appears to be a younger, less-articulate Ron Paul who definitely is not overspending on his haircuts. And so we progressed through this social media boondoggle that featured questions from Youtube, questions from texts, and questions from an oddly-raccoonish Megyn Kelly. Since I streamed directly from the Fox News website, I was also treated to the in-place-of-commercials analysis from some young moderator and two goons with suits and laptops. The whole thing reminded me of Jerry Lewis telethons.
Anyway...this debate is likely the first sign of Rick Perry's demise. Before tonight, it seemed like he would play the same minimalist politics that got George W. Bush to the White House, but Mitt Romney destroyed him tonight. It was brutal, and, with all due respect to Bill Simmons, featured the debut of a new face for the Pantheon of Faces: the Rick Perry face. The Rick Perry face is the "Oh-God-I'm-getting-killed-here-and-I-can't-stop-it-but-there's-still-an-hour-to-go" look, which he wore for much of the evening. He was so rattled that, by the end of the evening, his answers were incoherent to the point that it seemed as though he had a bottle of tequila under his podium.
Mitt Romney was clearly the winner tonight. He looked sharp, polished, and unfazed by Perry's and others' attempts to slam him, including those from the moderators. Mitt Romney, barring a catastrophic meltdown, looks good for the Republican nomination.
Here's the problem, though: the big winner tonight was the Obama/Biden 2012 team. I don't believe Mitt can beat the president...he just doesn't have a clear enough plan or message to galvanize the independent voting block. Ron Paul clearly got the biggest cheers, but his opinions (though close to mine) are just not where the money is in the Republican party. The Republican establishment would rather forget to nominate someone than to nominate the 77-year-old maverick libertarian, unfortunately.
The biggest challenge to the president may come earlier than expected, though. I would not rule out a primary challenge, particularly from the Clintons. After four years of Barack Obama, the country may just be ready for Hillary after all.