The following rankings are based strictly on their performance last night, not their overall merit as candidates.
First Place: A tie between Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich. I was surprised to see Bachmann at all, simply because she hadn't made her intentions to run official before last night, and I didn't expect to be as impressed with her performance as I was (I've always liked her passion for conservatism, but she has had a few foot-in-mouth issues). Bachmann was clear, polished, passionate, and generally delivered a performance that stood in stark contrast to the Left's caricature of her as an unserious nut. Gingrich, unsurprisingly, delivered a performance that showcased his unmatched command of the details and a no-nonsense attitude that I think would have taken him far if...well, if he wasn't Newt Gingrich, weighed down by all the baggage that entails.
Second Place: Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Solid performances, but more or less interchangeable in my view. Romney may have been a little more polished, though he's lucky nobody forced him to get too specific about health care. Speaking of which...
Third Place: Tim Pawlenty. He would have been in a tree-way tie for second with Santorum and Romney, were it not for chickening out when given a chance to back up his attacks on RomneyCare. Tim does realize that, if he wins the nomination, he'll have to say uncomplimentary things about Obama to his face, right?
Fourth Place: Herman Cain. I never expected to be as disappointed as I've been in Cain. Despite being able to speak with great confidence and clarity on economics, it's clear he hasn't made any effort to improve his foreign policy credentials. He also stumbled badly when trying to explain his remarks on the loyalty of Muslims, and I was disappointed to learn he wouldn't support the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Fifth Place: Ron Paul. His delivery is so terrible that I can't fathom how this guy managed to develop a cult of personality around himself. He comes across as the crazy uncle you're constantly praying won't embarrass you in front of dinner guests.
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