The latest GOP debate was held at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley and it may go down as one of the best so far. Brian Williams and John F. Harris moderated what MSNBC was obviously hoping would be remembered as the Perry vs. Romney debate. The first ten minutes were devoted to a spirited back and forth between the two front-runners, aided by Williams’ laid-back moderation. It was clear MSNBC was setting the two Governors up from the start. Unlike the previous Fox debate, this was a strong showing for most of the candidates. Herman Cain continues to improve with each debate. He is doing his homework, and it shows. As usual, Cain was strong on jobs and the economy. He ran some big pizza company and did rocket science stuff, so he’s pretty smart. At this point, Cain is trailing the pack, but his greatest strength is his ability to study and adapt. He showed he is not to be easily discounted and his intelligence is clearly his greatest asset. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion Cain throws one hell of a family reunion every year. This could add a whole new appeal to the White House. Cain is a long shot, but he is clearly not out of this race yet. Michele Bachmann was poised and deliberate and made a very strong case for why she should remain in the House. Having no clear record to run on, Bachmann frequently harkened back to the fights she has infamously backed in the House. It is clear that the battles in our Congress are varied and essential, and a solid Conservative like Bachmann is desperately needed to continue those fights. There was a time when Bachmann may have had a fighting chance to be President, but she seems to be saddled with a woeful campaign advisory team. For someone who is clearly so passionate and driven, in the debate format she comes off as forced and deliberate. One can almost see her checking off the boxes in her head as she addresses each issue. Bachmann is a great asset to the conservative movement, but tonight’s debate suggests that America may best be served with her in the Congress, instead of the White House. And that brings us to Newt. Oh, crazy, cantankerous Uncle Newt! What is there to say about Newt? Clearly there is no one in this race who can touch Newt when it comes to intelligence. It is nothing short of a pleasure to hear him speak on any issue. His vast wealth of knowledge and experience shows in every answer. Newt’s internal polling must be showing that he comes off as a little stiff, because he was heavy on passion tonight. As usual, the crowd loved it and was quite responsive, but Newt’s passionate strength is also his weakness. With his furled eyebrows, immovable silver hair, and a condescending tone, Newt comes off more as the cranky old uncle at the family reunion than a President. Add to that the fact that he looked like he just haphazardly threw on a suit and tie and ran over to the Library after his evening workout. In the end, no one can match Newt’s razor sharp intelligence. Debate after debate he proves he would be an invaluable pick for a cabinet position or advisor. Here’s hoping the future Republican President remembers that. Ron Paul put in a great performance. Ron Paul understands the benefits and ideals of personal responsibility better than any candidate out there. He handled each question with the ease of a man who believes what he says. And then he was asked an immigration question, and that’s when Ron Paul just had to go get all Ron Paul-ish and ruin everything he had said in the previous 40 minutes. There was some weirdness about a border fence working to keep Americans IN instead of Mexicans out and then the moderators moved on, but it was too late. Ron Paul just couldn’t hold the Ron Paul in long enough. The secret is out. Ron Paul is a great Congressman and a great libertarian, but Ron Paul is also kooky. And kooky doesn’t win the Presidency. Rick Santorum was there. Let’s not bring up the salmon tie. Jon Huntsman showed America what a calculated statesman he is. He arrived freshly oiled, with screws tightened, and his newly installed Political Platitudes software was working perfectly. Jon Huntsman was Governor of Utah, you know? He has a record there. He has a record in Utah. And he speaks Chinese. And he lived in China. And his record in Utah reflects his time in China, and Chinese and China. Oops, sorry. There is a glitch in the program. We’ll get back to him later, after his handlers generate a less pukey-colored tie for him. So that leaves us for the REAL reason for this debate tonight: Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Many were anxious to see how the Texas Governor would fair in this debate tonight against the other front-runner, Romney. Perry exuded a patriarchal confidence, from his high collared shirt to his answers on the science of global warming. Perhaps it is his Texas drawl, but Perry affects the air of a man who knows where he’s been, what he likes, and where he wants to go. Some of the questions had him reaching for words and it seemed at times as if he was searching for the right phrasing, but in a way it made him seem more human (non-Huntsmanlike), as if he were coming up with the answers as he received the questions, and not checking the boxes ala Michele Bachmann. Perhaps Perry’s highest point came when he referred to Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. This is sure to be the sound bite that will be echoing through the stenographer’s pool in the MSM for the rest of the week and rightfully so. It cannot be stressed enough the scam that Social Security has become for Americans in the 21st Century. If that bite is all that anyone remembers about Perry from tonight, he’s gone a long way to locking down the nomination. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the night was Mitt Romney’s hair. It just didn’t have the spunk of previous debates. Usually Romney’s hair is “Presidential” hair, but tonight it was just gym hair. But maybe that was a good thing. Mitt’s lackluster hair meant an opportunity for Romney to shine in his own right, and he pretty much did that. Romney stood firm and looked as relaxed as ever when sparring with Perry. He looked confident, hit all his talking points, displayed good humor and attacked Perry’s record without looking like he was ATTACKING Perry’s record. It was a good showing for the healthcare-beleaguered governor, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the sheer spectacle of seeing the Texas governor in debating form for the first time. An honorable mention goes to Brian Williams and MSNBC for what was probably the most engaging debate format to date. Williams has an easy yet professional charm that moved the debate along while still leaving room for the back and forth that gets audiences engaged. Dishonorable mention goes to Williams’ colleague, John F. Harris, who sounded like a whiny kid trying to score the “gotcha” for the school newspaper so he can finally have the confidence to ask his editor out on a date. Boo, to you Harris! Williams was right to let you talk less and less as the debate wound down. The clear winners for this debate tonight were Brian Williams and MSNBC, for hosting a surprisingly even-handed forum. It must have been difficult for them, but of course they were sure to line up Sharpton, Maddow, and Matthews in the post-debate to spew the proper amount of garbage afterward, so it evened out. Perry and Romney came out very strong and with the exception of Huntsman, the GOP pack proved that the bench on the Right is pretty deep. There is still more to hear from these candidates, but with each debate the field is getting sharper and sharper. That bodes well for the future of this Presidential race. Stay tuned!