Analysis Of CNN’s Nevada Debate: The Winners And Losers

There is a significant Mormon population in Nevade, many of whom apparently showed up to cheer Mitt on. Unless they do a surprise debate in Utah, this is probably the most friendly Republican crowd Mitt is going to see unless he takes the nomination.

The atmosphere was combative. The candidates went at it with each other during this debate in a way that they really haven’t before. At one point, everyone ganged up on Cain and then they moved on to beating up Romney. The whole debate was a little on the whiny side.

It’s also a little hard to score “winners and losers” because nobody in the top tier was all that good. There are few people who weren’t already Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, or Rick Perry fans who are going to flock to their standard because of their performances tonight. Still, out of the group, Mitt probably gained the most by subtraction.

1) Winner: Newt Gingrich. The other candidates are like the little kids sitting at the children’s table who call on Dad (Newt) to settle disputes. Newt is just head and shoulders better than everyone else on the stage.

2) Michele Bachmann: Bachmann has gotten her groove back in the last couple of debates. She was VERY good tonight. She sounded knowledgable, conservative, and on point. If she had been turning in performances like this all along, she would probably be the frontrunner today instead of trying to keep her head above water.

3) Mitt Romney: For the first time tonight, Romney was plastered from all sides. Some of those attacks drew blood. He was savaged on Romneycare, for example. Romney showed a lot of poise through most of the debate, *but lost his cool when Perry was beating him up, whined to Anderson Cooper that Perry wouldn’t let him talk, and reached over and put his hand on Perry. For a moment, I thought Perry was considering smacking his hand away (and maybe giving him a wedgie to boot).

That being said, Romney hung in there. He also sounded knowledgable, took some shots at Obama, and proved himself to be a competent debater. Although this performance probably didn’t create a lot of new fans for him, he was better than his top tier competition and at least gave the impression that he could mix it up with the other candidates.

4) Ron Paul/Rick Santorum: Both Paul and Santorum had some really good answers, but they also both went astray. Although I genuinely admire Rick Santorum’s passionate ferocity, it’s just not presidential. Ron Paul, being Ron Paul, managed to sound just enough false notes to turn people off.

6) Rick Perry: He had a lot more energy and fire tonight. That’s good. He also scored some points by smacking Anderson Cooper around a bit and by questioning whether we should continue to fund the UN, but this was a poor performance overall. At times Perry was a little incoherent, his overdone attack on Mitt Romney for supposedly hiring illegal immigrants was just lame, he’s still a little too Texas-focused in his answers, and his speaking style features a lot of awkward pauses. This is not a performance that’s going to reassure anyone that he can handle debating Obama.

7) Loser: Herman Cain: The debate started with pretty much everyone else on the stage attacking Cain’s 9-9-9 plan and honestly, he didn’t do a very good job of defending the plan. This was a debate where 9-9-9 was a weakness for Cain, instead of a strength. Additionally, Cooper brought up a comment Cain had made earlier in the day.

Cain was asked if Al-Qaeda had one American prisoner and demanded that he free everyone at Gitmo in exchange for him, would he consider doing that? Cain said that he would.

This is the equivalent of being tossed a fat, underhanded softball right over the middle of the plate, swinging, missing, and accidentally knocking yourself unconscious with the bat. Cain has come across as not knowing much about foreign policy to begin with and whiffing so badly on such an easy question really makes him look bad. When he was asked about this during the debate, he responded by saying he stood by his answer, but that he wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists — which, of course, makes no sense.

Although Cain was likable, pleasant, and generally sounded pretty good, he was exposed so badly in those two areas that it’s likely to cost him some support this week. He needs to regroup, better prepare to defend his plan and bone up on foreign policy in a hurry.

* This part was added to the original post.

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