None of the other seven candidates on the stage made a convincing case for advancing to the top tier. The closest was Rick Santorum, who was eloquent and knowledgeable on foreign policy. But his answer on gays in the military was cringe-inducing for people on all sides of the issue. Michele Bachmann refused to back down from her statement relaying the claim of a woman who approached her saying that the HPV vaccine caused retardation in her child. Bachmann has made headway by championing the instincts of ordinary hardworking citizens over the supposed wisdom of experts. But on vaccinations the experts are right.
Pundits are fixated on designating a frontrunner, but the polls in this race -- witness Romney's rise and fall and Perry's rise -- have all the solidity of cotton candy. Bachmann's numbers peaked in July, Herman Cain's in June, Ron Paul's and Newt Gingrich's in May -- and not at high levels. Santorum's haven't peaked at all.
Could another candidate give a better performance than Perry and deliver more sustainable responses than Romney? To judge from their performances in various public and private venues the answer is yes for Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie.
Each has taken himself out of the race. Each still has time to get in. Most voters are ready to reject Barack Obama. But not necessarily for one of those on the stage Thursday night.