Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Romney said his analysis concluded that middle-income people would pay higher taxes under Cain's plan.

Asked last by Cooper, Gingrich responded to the question of whether it would be hard to sell Cain's plan.

"Well, you just watched it," replied Gingrich to laughs.

While the first exchange provided clear contrasts of ideas, it was neither personal nor fiery. This changed.

Romney sparred with Perry and Santorum, and in each case, it sounded like children bickering. The one-minute answer and 30-second rebuttal format exacerbated the conflict rather than revealing any substantive differences.

Possibly the most debilitating wound of the night came from Cain prior to the debate and was self-inflicted. During an interview with CNN, Correspondent Wolf Blitzer asked Cain, "Could you imagine If you were president ... and there were one American soldier who had been held for years, and the demand was al-Qaida, or some other terrorist group, you got to free everyone at Guantanamo Bay, several hundred prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, could you see yourself as president authorizing that kind of transfer?"

"I could see myself," Cain answered.

During the debate, when asked by Cooper about the earlier comment, Cain responded, "I don't recall him saying that it was al-Qaida-related. ... Well, I don't really -- my policy will be we cannot negotiate with terrorists." His response was either a change in position or Cain had not understood Blitzer's question earlier in the evening.

In summary, during the debate, Santorum focused on faith and family; Paul on liberty and the evils of the Federal Reserve; Cain on defending his 9-9-9 plan and his terrorist gaffe; Romney simply wanted the rules followed for the debate (he quoted them to Perry during one of their tiffs); Perry was determined to go on the attack; Gingrich held the big picture, elder statesman role; and Bachmann again promised to repeal Obamacare.

The winner of the debate was CNN, as it drew millions of viewers.

The losers were the viewers. American people should demand a different format to allow for more substantive answers and less bickering.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.