The Bloomberg/Washington Post GOP debate is in the books, which means it's time to take a look at who had a good night - and who didn't. Below, our take on the winners and losers from Tuesday's economy-focused face-off:
Mitt Romney: Another sterling debate performance from Romney, who once again looked far more presidential than anyone else onstage. During the portion of the debate in which the candidates asked each other questions, rivals like Herman Cain and Rick Perry took direct aim at him; Romney hit back hard at Perry, leaving him looking like a schoolboy with his hand caught in the candy jar, and suggested Cain's claim that Romney's economic plan was too complicated showed Cain didn't understand the complicated nature of the economy. When Romney asked his question, he directed a softball to Michele Bachmann - a show of strength in light of Bachmann's long odds at winning the nomination. Romney would be all too happy to see Bachmann stick around at least until to the Iowa caucuses, where she can split the conservative vote with Cain and Perry and give Romney the opening he needs to win the state.
Newt Gingrich: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich almost certainly isn't going to be president. But if, as many assume, his presidential campaign is now largely about keeping his name in the headlines in order to further his personal brand, Gingrich had a good night. He was able to get in a lot of Gingrichisms - a personal favorite was "I was just swapping emails today with Andy von Eschenbach..." - that reinforced the notion that Gingrich is the Republican Party's ideas man. Whether he deserves the mantle as the GOP's preeminent intellectual is certainly up for debate, but there's no question that pushing the notion can't hurt book sales. Another idea that won't hurt book sales:
Ron Paul: The Texas Libertarian is another candidate who almost surely isn't going to make it to the White House. (Sorry, Paul fanatics.) But while many of the other candidates read like potentially-dissembling politicians, Paul had the aura of a truth teller - particularly when he called for the repeal of Sarbanes-Oxley, which "was done by the Republicans." Paul also got in a solid shot at Cain, noting that he had been director of the Kansas City Fed and opposed an audit of the Federal Reserve. Cain's claim that Paul misquoted him - "You've gotta be careful of the stuff you get off the Internet," Cain said, condescendingly - was quickly debunked by the Paul campaign.
Herman Cain: Cain was on the defensive for the first time during the debate Wednesday, defending himself against moderators and rivals who afforded him increased scrutiny due to his increased standing in the polls. And while it wasn't a terrible performance by Cain by any means, he spent too much time harping on his 9-9-9 plan - missing an opportunity to put to rest concerns that he lacks the knowledge for the job. (.) Cain can only get by on 9-9-9 and personal magnetism for so long. If he wants to have staying power as a viable alternative to Romney - and attract the donors he needs to build an infrastructure to compete with both Romney and Perry - he needs to do better.
Rick Perry: Perry was virtually invisible for the first half of the debate, getting little attention from moderators - a demoralizing state of affairs for a man who just one month ago was seen as the frontrunner for the nomination. The Texas governor improved over the course of the debate, offering a strong closing statement, but there was no momentum-changing moment he could build off to reverse his slide in the polls. And his string of strange facial contortions in response to the other candidate's comments - look for the sure-to-be-forthcoming YouTube mashup - certainly didn't help the cause. He needed to score some points off Romney, but he spent much of the debate looking a little bit lost.
Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann: Perhaps it's unfair to put these three candidates in the "losers" column, since their performances met the (low) expectations that existed coming into Tuesday night. But all three need to do something to get out of the single digits in national polls - to offer up a performance or generate a moment that will resonate enough to get GOP primary voters to give them a second look. None did.