Paul Greenberg

The newest edition of Newt Gingrich was on display, too, and the old rascal would have won in a walk if (a) he didn't have his past with all its character issues, and (b) this was a campaign for president not of the United States but of a think tank or poli-sci school.

It's one thing to know political theory, another to be a successful statesman. Offer the voters theoretics without much experience in the great world out there, and you have a prefect recipe for failure, if not tragedy. (See Woodrow Wilson, not to mention the current occupant of the Oval Office.)

As for the the supporting cast in this show, it didn't win any Oscars. Even if it may have connected with a soundbite or two. The way Herman Cain did when he noted, "America needs to learn to take a joke." He's another businessman candidate for president, but a Wendell Willkie he ain't. Or even a Mitt Romney.

Those keeping a box score Thursday evening could safely put Mr. Cain down as less than a great politician, whetever his charms. Ditto, Rick Santorum, whose time has come but also gone in national politics.

Have I left anybody out? Oh, yes, Jon Huntsman. He also attended. And soon enough he'll be left out of the running.

Oh, yes. There's also, as always, Ron Paul. What would a presidential debate be without a village crank? Congressman Paul is to the GOP what Dennis Kucinich is to the other party -- a true believer. In all kinds of improbable things. Mr. Paul isn't just the classic isolationist in foreign affairs; he's isolated from realities all around, whether he's being a money crank or some other kind at the time.

A political party is always divided between its passions and its calculations. The candidate who satisfies its passions -- a Barry Goldwater, a George McGovern, a Robert A. Taft -- may prove a disaster in the general election, when not just the party faithful but independents and the more flexible members of the other party will need to be courted. Which is the attraction of an Eisenhower. Or, this year, a Mitt Romney.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.