Onge, associate editor of the Observer's editorial board, and I'll be your host today.
What are people talking about this morning?
Republican candidates for president held the first of two S.C. debates last night in Myrtle Beach, and frontrunner Mitt Romney took an unsurprising pummeling from his fellow debaters, none of whom has been able to grab and keep the title of Mitt Alternative. At this point, that title means little, however, because unless Romney makes a severe misstep, the other GOP candidates seem to be fighting merely for a good speaking spot at the Republican National Convention.
Still, pundits agree that one candidate clearly had the best night in Myrtle Beach. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza says Newt Gingrich was the clear winner of the debate, showing that when he's on, he's the best debater in the field.
Cillizza's other winners include Rick Perry and Barack Obama, who benefits from Romney's conservative answer on immigration, which won't play as well in a general election, along with Romney grudgingly saying he will probably release his income tax returns.
Cillizza's big loser: Ron Paul, who was booed by the audience and mocked by Perry. Said Cillizza: "If Paul would deflect all foreign policy questions and turn every answer into something about his economic views, he could be a real contender for the nomination. He won’t do that, so he isn’t."
Halperin also gives the nod to Gingrich in his post-debate report card. Gingrich got an A- from Halperin, who said the Georgian was "At his best: funny, lively, tough, brash, challenging."
Perry ("clear, consistent and relaxed") and Romney ("less dominant") each received a B from Professor Halperin. Santorum, who was overshadowed by Gingrich, got a C+, and Paul ("marble-mouthed on defense") got a C.
Stephen F. Hayes of the conservative Weekly Standard said Gingrich was a clear winner, with a "a performance Monday night that reminded people why he was once the Republican frontrunner for the Republican nomination." Romney was "less sure-footed," says Hayes, but the clear loser was Santorum, simply because his biggest not-Mitt opponent did so well.
Politico's Maggie Haberman agrees that Gingrich got his groove back and said that the pummeling Romney took from his fellow debaters shows that he's in for a hard week in South Carolina. But, like the others, Haberman didn't see any lasting bruises on Romney from last night.
Romney, she said, is "one step closer to the finish line."