What took so long? After eight debates, the candidates decided it was a good time to start throwing punches. Between popular tax plans and the ever-shifting top tier of candidates, everyone on stage saw something or someone they felt needed to be brought back down to earth.
From Rick Perry throwing a haymaker at Mitt Romney over his supposed hiring of illegal immigrants to the free-for-all assault on Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax reform plan, every idea and every candidate that is riding high in the polls came under attack.
Not getting attacked was the faintest praise of all.
Rick Santorum was the doberman pincher of the night, biting into Romney's leg on Romneycare and Perry's thigh on TARP, while Anderson Cooper seemed happy to stand by and watch the flesh fly. Only Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann seemed generally uninterested in the internecine warfare, focusing their fire on President Obama instead.
As political junkies we thought this debate offered a whole lot more excitement and intrigue, but it still should be viewed in the long scope of the primary process. In that spirit, we offer five takeaways from tonight's bout, five process-altering aspects that we think will live on past the airing of the event.
1. Rick Perry: Game On. Despite either sleeping through or tripping over himself in the previous debates, the former Texas Governor displayed tonight why he is still a major player in the nomination fight. From taking gut shots at Romney over immigration — an issue that has caused Perry more problems than any other — to a strong defense of expanding domestic energy production, Perry had easily his best debate yet. Coming out of tonight, Perry is likely to take that newly-found debate fire and his $15 million in the bank and make this a race yet.
2. 9-9-9 is catching on, and so is Herman Cain. The debate began with almost every candidate on stage blitzkrieging Cain on the impacts of his plan to throw out the federal income tax and replace it with a 9% personal income tax, 9% corporate income tax, and a 9% national sales tax. As they say in the military, if you're taking flak, you're over the target.
2b. Herman Cain and foreign policy don't get along. He told a CNN interviewer earlier today that he "would entertain" letting everyone out of Gitmo in exchange for a soldier held by Al Qaeda. There is no way to walk that one back. Cain has zero, zilch, no experience on foreign policy and it shows.
3. Rick Santorum is going to bloody up the field before it's over. While other debate moderators may not let Santorum filibuster other candidates' talk times, as Anderson Cooper did, the former Pennsylvania Senator showed he knows his oppo research and will not go quietly into the Iowa Caucus night.
4. Gingrich rocked it. If Cain falls, and the search for an anti-Romney continues, it will be Newt's turn next.
5. Romney remains confident. Romney was steady, solid and gives the decided impression of a man who not only believes he will stand on the stage next to President Obama — from a statistical perspective at least, he likely will.