After the jump, my quick takeaways on each candidate.
- Michele Bachmann was strictly on message, which seemed to be, "I've always been the leader of the crazies." Except for the one question when she was asked, if she became president, would she remain "submissive" to her husband. For a brief moment, she managed to look like the sane person on the stage.
- Mitt Romney leads the polls, so Tim Pawlenty came out swinging against ... Michele Bachmann. And came away from the exchange more wounded than she did. Maybe he thinks he's got to get past Bachmann first before he can take on Romney, but at this rate, he's not going to get past Saturday.
- Herman Cain repeatedly found himself having to explain that he's really not a bigot, but do it in a way that doesn't cost him the bigot vote.
- Newt Gingrich repeatedly found himself having to tell the questioners, in effect, that anyone quoting him is guilty of a falsehood. And his questioner was Fox News's Chris Wallace. Being attacked by a GOP candidate automatically gives Wallace 50 points of cred with the rest of the TV talking heads.
- Rick Santorum kept jumping up and down trying to get someone's attention. When he finally did, he attacked ... Ron Paul.
- Ron Paul waved his arms and charged everyone on stage with him of being a warmonger. He said the US should quit picking on Iran. Afterward, I imagined Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sending a bottle of fine Scotch to him backstage. And Ahmadinejad doesn't drink.
- In my initial draft of this post, I overlooked Jon Huntsman. Here I correct that oversight. Jon Huntsman was on stage, too.
- Mitt Romney was the big winner among the candidates on stage. All Romney had to do in this forum was smile every three or four minutes. No one took him down. No one even tried. Pawlenty's only criticism took the form of a (scripted) lame joke about cutting Romney's lawn or at least the first acre of it. The lack of bite in the joke made it sound more like an attempt to stay on Romney's list of VP candidates than an attempt to draw blood. The voters might still not like Romney, but not because the other candidates said anything critical of him.
- That leaves Rick Perry and Sarah Palin, the two biggest non-candidates who were not on stage. Perry increased his stature just by avoiding association with this lineup. And Palin had her already slim chances diminish even more by being ignored by all. Only Bachmann even felt there was any need to appeal to the Palin base by saying nice things about her.