With Rick Perry dropping out of the Presidential race mere hours before the next GOP debate, the stage in South Carolina seemed set to deliver at least a few interesting moments. Viewers did not have to wait long for fireworks. The first question out of the gate from CNN moderator John King was directed at Newt Gingrich regarding the now infamous pending interview with ex-wife Marianne Gingrich. Obviously Newt was ready and it is not an understatement to say that Newt excoriated King. He scolded King like a child, at one point almost yelling at the CNN host, telling him questions like that were irresponsible, distracting and everything that is wrong with the current Presidential campaign process. It was vicious, glorious and the crowd reacted with enormous enthusiasm. I think I even detected a tear in King’s eye. I could go on but why when Newt said it so well himself. Take a look. As in the last debate there were no new revelations to be made on each of the remaining candidate’s positions. The real drama in South Carolina revolved around Newt’s surge and how it would affect Romney. With polls showing the two in a near dead heat, Romney seemed to be on the ropes from the start to prove that he is still a front-runner. He was not up to the task. This was clearly Romney’s worst show to date. Gone was his typical confidence and composure as he stuttered through responses on when he would release his tax returns and Romneycare. Romney produced many cringe-worthy moments during the debate, but none so noticeable as when he actually referred to his own controversial healthcare legislation as ROMNEYCARE! No doubt Romney will be chastising himself relentlessly over non-alcoholic, decaffeinated beverages for the next two days. Rule number one in politics: you NEVER repeat the meme your enemy has pinned on you. Yikes! There was blood in the water on that Charleston stage and all three of Romney’s opponents sensed that. He was attacked more directly than he has been all season and he did not fare well. The combined onslaught may just turn out to be Romney’s downfall in South Carolina. This was not his night. Santorum started off the evening a bit weak but seemed to pick up steam as the debate progressed. It was clear that this stage was his last stand. He pulled no punches and went after both Newt and Romney with targeted attacks. Santorum is polling last in South Carolina now with Perry out of the race. This is most likely his last chance to seize some of that Iowa momentum and make a case that he is the best choice for the nomination. Santorum worked hard to establish himself as the best conservative alternative to both Romney and Newt. It will be up to the voters of South Carolina to decide if he accomplished that or not. Regardless, Santorum let it all hang out. If he goes down, it won’t be because he didn’t throw everything he had at his opponents. Ron Paul was…Ron Paul. What is left to be said about Ron Paul? Ron Paul hates the Fed. Ron Paul hates big government. Ron Paul is passionate about the constitution. Ron Paul wants to end all wars/conflicts and all involvement in foreign affairs. Ron Paul wants to pay down the debt by cutting military action. You may love Ron Paul. You may hate Ron Paul. Whatever your opinion of Ron Paul may be, it cannot be denied that Ron Paul is always consistent in all things Ron Paul. But Ron Paul won’t win. Because he’s Ron Paul. Sorry, Ronulans. Cue the crazy hate mail in 4..3..2..1. Newt won this debate in the first three minutes, but his Achilles heel has always been his intellectual arrogance and perhaps that arrogance was a bit too pronounced at points. Some voters may be turned off by that. Santorum was a close second. He fought like a man with nothing left to lose. Even if he goes home after Saturday the man deserves major kudos for going from someone who most Americans had never heard of to one of the final four candidates in a particularly bloody GOP primary battle. He has earned my respect in this process. Mitt Romney lost this debate if for no other reason than the expectations have been so very high for him for so very long. It was a lackluster, stilted performance that will be sure to weaken him as the primaries get underway on Saturday. The big loser of Thursday’s debate was John King and CNN. I suppose he had to ask the question he did at the top of the show but surely he walked away from that spanking he received from Newt with some very red buttocks. Tsk, tsk, CNN…you should have known better. Newt is not perfect, but he is perfectly articulate. He was ready and you weren’t. Checkmate.