This debate was actually watchable. I'm not certain if it was because Anderson Cooper was such a good marshal, if the candidates have now done 274 debates, or both, but it was fun to watch.
As you saw, the first 30 minutes (or so) were all about Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan. As I Tweeted if this were a straw poll then Cain lost because the other six candidates didn't think 9-9-9 was so swell.
The next 20 minutes was Romney and ObamaCare.
Rick Santorum, attempting to get noticed, kept interrupting Romney and drew boos from the audience.
Then Perry and Romney got into a discussion about Romney's lawn care company during which Perry used some nonsensical oppo research that found the company used illegal aliens to mow Romney's lawn.
I'm not certain how tickets to the debate were distributed, but Perry succeeded in drawing boos from the audience because he kept interrupting Romney thus putting himself on the same level as Santorum which is a very low level, indeed.
Herman Cain had to defend his 9-9-9 plan but had no good response other than everyone should read it and do the arithmetic. He wasn't pressed on anything else and, in fact, was more-or-less left out of the conversation when it moved onto other topics.
He drew applause when he was asked about his "blame yourself" position to the Occupy Wall Street people and said he stood by it, but when he was challenged by Ron Paul on the specifics, Cain's answer was far weaker demonstrating that he may be only a 9-trick pony.
Mitt Romney has learned well the lessons of political debates. He slapped both Santorum and Perry around during the give-and-take and jumped into the immigration discussion knocking Michele Bachmann out of the discussion along the way. If anyone doubted Romney's having learned a lot from having run four years ago, this debate answered it.
Notwithstanding Herman Cain's standing in the polls, Romney demonstrated who the is leader of the pack.
Rick Perry was animated during the first hour, but maybe would have done better being quiet. He kept coming back to Romney-Lawn-Care-gate as if that was going to change the arc of his campaign. It is not, and at about 45 minutes into the debate the audience booed his fifth or sixth reference to it.
Perry may have taken an energy drink at one of the breaks because, for the first time in the debates in which he's participated, that he seemed to be awake and aware during the second hour.
Newt Gingrich, not surprisingly, got prickly when Romney said he and the Heritage Foundation were in favor of an "individual mandate" during the ObamaCare discussion. Gingrich accused Romney of lying, but after Romney explained what he meant, Gingrich had to admit Romney had been correct.
This was not Gingrich's best performance.
Ron Paul is like the dairy section at the Safeway. You know where to find the 2% and where to find the yoghurt. You can depend on Paul to stay on message and to make his case clearly and concisely whether you agree with him or not.
Michele Bachmann had her best appearance since the first debate. Her ideas might be screwy, but within the extremely narrow limits of her world-view she did a good job of presenting them.
Rick Santorum should be dropped from these debates because his only goal is to pick a fight with whomever is ahead of him in the polls which is everyone else on the stage. He has nothing positive to offer and depends solely on being the class scold as an attention-getting device.