* Mitt Romney: This is the first time in the 2012 debates that the former Massachusetts governor has wound up in the loser’s circle. While he wasn’t bad, he also wasn’t nearly as good — in terms of thinking on his feet and message discipline — as he has been in the past. He also made a rare but likely costly unforced error when he asked Perry to wager $10,000 about who was more right about his position on the individual mandate. Some people may roll their eyes and insist that a line like that doesn’t matter but in times of considerable economic anxiety it will be used to make Romney look out of touch. (Remember George H.W. Bush not knowing how much a loaf of bread cost?) Romney also seemed divided on how hard to go after Gingrich. He did so when moderator George Stephanapoulos prompted him but seemed slightly hesitant to do it. Add it all up and you have Romney’s worst debate performance so far this year.
* Republican establishment: For all of those folks predicting (or hoping) that Gingrich would implode, tonight was not their night. Make no mistake: there are genuine concerns within the party about what Gingrich leading the national ticket might mean for downballot race next November. But Gingrich gave his detractors very little reason to think that his collapse is in the offing.