Opinion: GOP debate: The night’s winner, loser, survivor and comeback


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Narrow winner, on points: Mitt Romney, for the second debate in a row. He pressed his attack on Rick Perry’s Social Security position pretty effectively. He parried attacks on his healthcare plan, something on which he’s had plenty of practice. He made no significant errors. The ‘tea party’ crowd in the hall wasn’t on his side, but let’s see what happens in the polls.

Biggest survivor: Perry, battered but unbowed. As the front-runner, he was the target of almost everyone else on the stage -- attacked on Social Security (by Romney), HPV inoculation (by Michele Bachmann) and immigration (by almost everyone). He wasn’t as smooth and sure-footed as Romney, but he held his ground. He’s in this race for the duration.


Mini-comeback: Bachmann. She focused most of her fire on Perry, her main rival for the top spot as the anti-Romney conservative in the race. She was sharp, quick-witted and rigorous in her adherence to tea party doctrine. It probably wasn’t enough to knock Perry off his pedestal as the front-runner, but it should keep her in the race in case the Texan stumbles.

Biggest loser: The Republican Party as a big-tent organization that can appeal to the center. If the tea party gets the kind of candidate it demands, the GOP will face trouble in the general election. Fed-bashing, immigrant-bashing and uninsured-patient-bashing won’t win a majority.

Biggest disappointment: We still don’t know what Romney and Perry propose to do about Social Security. They talked about their courage to say the system has problems, but that’s not what takes courage. Proposing specific fixes takes courage -- and they didn’t do that.


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--Doyle McManus

Mitt Romney, left, and Rick Perry spar during Monday’s GOP debate in Tampa sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images