Where the Candidates Stand After the Debate

Romney is back to running on inevitably; Cain is back to auditioning for a Fox deal

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There were no reality show moments at Tuesday night's Republican debate -- a lack of microphones on the audience kept any potentially offensive outbursts in the room. The star of the show was not one candidate but Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, which nearly every person on stage referenced. But the lack of drama around Charlie Rose's table doesn't mean the debate didn't have an impact on the race. Here's where the candidates stand the morning after:

Mitt Romney is winning. At The New Republic, Walter Shapiro writes that the seven debate have "crowned Romney as the undisputed frontrunner." Politico's Jonathan Martin says that none of his rivals have been able to hurt him on his biggest weakness, health care, meaning, "Aided by a group of competitors who've risen and fallen -- or not run altogether -- the former Massachusetts governor's steady-as-he-goes strategy has returned him to unqualified frontrunner status." (Note: this summer, this strategy was not seen as being so wise.) Shapiro offers this example of Romney's skill:
Romney’s rhetorically best moment came when Cain -- in a strategic misjudgment -- challenged the former Massachusetts governor to name all 59 separate provisions in his economic plan. Cain’s point was that 9-9-9 was as simple to remember as a pizza commercial, while Romney’s program would never fit on a bumper-sticker. With a hint of disappointment in his voice about Cain’s innocence, Romney offered this devastating response: “Herman, I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems. And I must admit that simple answers are always very helpful, but oftentimes inadequate.”
Herman Cain is a future talking head. Martin describes Cain, after the debate, taking a "victory lap through the spin room" in his shirt sleeves, saying he's a top tier candidate. But his debate performance -- with "the vaguest of platitudes" -- didn't necessarily justify that confidence. That's in Cain's character, Shapiro muses,  writing, "To run for president -- especially without any experience in elective office -- requires the kind of ego that makes Donald Trump seem like a shrinking violet."
Commentary's Jonathan S. Tobin predicts, "Cain might become the Mike Huckabee of the 2012 election as Perry collapses ... But though Huckabee won Iowa, he failed virtually everywhere else. Cain is unlikely to do any better." But maybe that's what he wants -- Huckabee did quite well for himself post-2008. As The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza tweeted last night, "Wonder what time slot Cain will get for his Fox show after the election."
Rick Perry's campaign is on death watch. Perry didn't talk too much -- "if you have nothing clear to say, it’s best to say nothing at all," Politico's Maggie Haberman writes -- which meant he did little to come back from his sinking in the polls. The New Yorker's John Cassidy says the Texan "is struggling mightily in the major leagues," and threw away an opportunity:
Given a chance to refute Romney’s attacks with a defense of his own Texas health-care reforms, he instead chose to bang on about Medicare block grants. Evidently, he had come up with a new jobs plan based on exploiting America’s energy resources. But rather than detailing it to a national audience, he promised to roll it out in the coming days, when his media following would mainly consist of campaign correspondents on death watch.
Newt Gingrich is paying off his debts. Gingrich ended the second quarter $1 million in debt -- and he gets pretty snippy when you ask him about the third quarter haul, which he still has not released. Haberman observes that his call for former Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, authors of financial regulatory reform laws, to be imprisoned probably didn't do much to make him seem like a for-real candidate. "But the better he does, the easier it is to retire campaign debt," she says. "And he had a strong night."
Michele Bachmann is a just good debater. "The Michele Bachmann conservatives fell in love with during the campaign’s early debates returned Tuesday night," Politico's Reid J. Epstein writes. Her performance in those debates are what first sparked her rise in polls; the disorganization of her campaign and several gaffes are what caused her descent. Though she made references to Iowa -- a must-win for her -- Tuesday night, she'll be in New Hampshire Wednesday, First Read notes. She has little chance of winning that state. A good debate can't fix a bad strategy.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.