Mitt Romney: B: Tripped up early by Santorum, the frontrunner was awkward the rest of the night, stiffening on stage and gripping the podium for dear life. Romney didn’t act like a winner tonight – he looked vulnerable to a sharp social conservative. He’s lucking out that Gingrich, Santorum, and Perry are splitting that vote.
Ron Paul: B-: He was mostly absent for the first part of the debate, which may have been a good thing. The moderators turned to him on foreign policy, and it was all down hill from there. The audience booed, jeered, and heckled him — and while he earned applause for calling for an end to the wars, his answer on Osama bin Laden isn’t helping him win over undecideds.
Rick Perry: C: He called Turkey, an important U.S. ally, a state ruled by Islamic extremists, yet again demonstrating his complete lack of knowledge on foreign policy issues. Earlier in the debate, he desperately inserted himself into an heated exchange between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. He’s still not ready to run for president — much less to serve — and he’s clearly overstayed his welcome on this stage.
Newt Gingrich: A: The audience was on his side when Juan Williams pressed him on child employment, and it stayed there. Gingrich had the best second half of any of the candidates, sharpening his attack on Romney over his Super PAC, and on Paul’s foreign policy.
Rick Santorum: A: He got under Romney’s skin like no other candidate has managed this cycle, doing more to secure his status as the “Anti-Romney” than anything yet.
The bottom line from tonight is that Gingrich and Santorum both had a great night — and that’s bad for both of them.