Rich Galen
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The Lad came East to visit with some clients and had dinner with the Mullings Director of Standards and Practices and, as happens at family dinners in Your Nation's Capital, we talked about politics.

I said that I understood that Rick Perry had cancelled much of his schedule on Wednesday afternoon which told me he was going to be out of this thing before the debate last night.

Therefore it came as no surprise to me when I landed in Charleston Thursday morning with dozens of email messages telling me Perry was holding a press conference at 11 o'clock to announce he was leaving the campaign - for keeps this time - and endorsing Newt Gingrich.

So, this very strange Cycle of the Debate made its presence felt yet again.

As his performances in debates has provided the solid rocket fuel for the campaign of Newt Gingrich to rise once again, so his performances in debates caused the second stage of Rick Perry's campaign to flame out leaving him to float back to Austin under a slightly tarnished parachute.

That's why there were only four candidates on the stage at the Coliseum in North Charleston for the CNN debate last night.

Here's how they did:

Newt Gingrich

Newt's performance on Monday was so strong it changed the arc of the race here. From being behind by 10-12 points to Mitt Romney in most polls on Monday afternoon; he suddenly found himself tied with Romney or leading the field by debate time last night.

Newt got the first question and it was about his ex-wife's shocking statement that he called her and asked for an "open marriage." Gingrich was obviously ready for it and turned it into a classic Newtonian attack on the "elite" media, generally and on moderator John King in particular. It drew not one, but two standing ovations.

As the debate wore on, Newt returned to his "Professor Newt" persona for the rest of the first hour and was very good. While it didn't appear to be the mondo performance of Monday, that might have been because he set the bar so high for himself.

Mitt Romney

Romney refused to engage on Newt's ex-wife by saying to John King: "John, let's get on to the real issues."

Romney was much more comfortable last night. It appeared that he was prepared to rise to the Gingrich challenge and brought his "A Game" to the debate.

He was reasoned and on point. He answered the question to explain the arithmetic of the 100,000 jobs created at Bain Capital by explaining that capitalism was a good thing and profits were a good thing, and he wasn't going to apologize for either.

Rick Santorum

Santorum is a very good debater. He realizes he is in danger of becoming a second tier candidate and now that there are only four candidates left "second tier" is very thin. When asked about Gingrich's suggestion that he get out of the race Santorum pointed to his first place finish in Iowa and coming in ahead of Gingrich in New Hampshire. He came very close to calling Gingrich crazy.

Twice he and Gingrich got into private one-on-one arguments which worked for all of the candidates because the remaining four candidates are all pretty good at this.

Ron Paul

Ron Paul was asked about programs for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He recounted the post-World War II era saying there were no government programs to deal with the 10 million returning veterans. Gingrich pointed out the benefits of the GI Bill.

Ron Paul wasn't the crazy uncle in the basement as he was on Monday and he probably didn't move a single vote. He'll get what he gets and he'll stay in this race through June.

No one tripped over themselves, everyone seemed to be relaxed and informed.

The overall answer is: In a very odd way, this debate didn't live up to its advance billing - at least the billing here in South Carolina - where it was assumed this was going to be bare-knuckled, steel-cage, death match.

I can't imagine any votes changed as the result of this debate. Let's go back to eight people on the stage.

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Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.