I managed actually to watch the Republican debate tonight. There were plenty of potentially vomit-inducing statements, but also enough fireworks to keep my attention. The first set had to do with Herman Cain's controversial tax plan, where he dismissed concerns about his nine percent national sales tax being piled on top of existing state sales taxes by saying that was "mixing apples and oranges". Mitt Romney got him, though, by responding that "you get a fruit basket, with both apples and oranges, and Nevada doesn't want them". Cain's argument that low- and middle-class people would pay less under his plan "just won't fly", as Rick Perry said.
The real problems Cain faces were illustrated in that discussion. His program is simple and largely understandable, which makes it a problem: Cain can either disguise its regressive nature (which he's trying to do), or he can acknowledge it. He's a Republican, he may as well as admit it, and it is eventually going to come out that he is a former member of the Federal Reserve Board (it doesn't seem to have come up yet), and thus a card-carrying member of the moneyed elite--the group that would benefit most from his program.
The fisticuffs were between Romney and Perry; they were not thrown, but I'd bet a closeup would show they both had their fists clenched. Romney got slammed as a hypocrite by Perry for having had illegals mowing his lawn; Perry got back a dig about how he was just getting testy because he had "a couple of bad debates". Perry's look in response to that was purely feral; Romney got frustrated with Perry's willingness to get in his face and interrupt him.
Actually, though, the glove that did touch Romney was Rick Santorum's, with his accusation that Romney has no credibility in his attacks on "Obamacare", having been a principal in the development and legislation of a healthcare coverage law in Massachusetts that closely paralleled the Affordable Care Act. It put Romney in a difficult position of having to defend the success and popularity of his Massachusetts law while condemning Obama's very similar one. It will come back.
I was impressed with how lame all of the answers were for several of the questions: on foreign aid, on what to do about the foreclosures in Nevada, about the Occupy Wall Street movement, about what any of them possibly have to offer for Latino voters. But that was to be expected, I guess.
So, especially for those who couldn't stomach it, I must answer the simple question: who won, and who lost? Bachmann, whose answers were largely irrelevant except for a couple of appeals to emotional, conservative women, and Santorum, except for his jab at Romney, were further marginalized. Ron Paul got some good points in, but he is clearly not mainstreaam Republican. Jon Huntsman definitely lost by not showing up; his absence was hardly noticed.
Newt Gingrich showed that he is the best debater, but that it won't matter in the nomination battle--he probably did well enough to keep him in the race until the balloting starts in January. Rick Perry gained by keeping himself in the ring; he didn't make any friends, but his money will buy continued viability. Cain did enough to stay in the top three, but I still see his position as a losing one. Romney came in the leader and left as the leader, but he failed to knock Perry out, and he will be bruised in a long battle with him (more than if Cain is the surviving leader of the anti-Romney forces).
The winner, because his most plausible opponent's long-term position got weaker, was Barack Obama. Except for Bachmann, most of them were too busy attacking each other to say anything intelligent about Obama's shortcomings, and there will be more of this to come.