The CNBC debate was a joke. The 30 second format is ridiculous for getting at the substance of the issues. Gingrich, and to a lesser extent Huntsman, did a good job of pointing out this absurdity. For most of the key issues, the candidates were all saying the same things. There weren’t any clear winner(s), but there were a few losers. This debate seemed to be more about not making any big mistakes.
Cain seemed to handle the sexual harassment allegations well, and Romney didn’t get baited into piling onto Cain when questioned about his character. I hate to say it, but Romney also did a good job of getting past the question about his reputation for flip-flopping.
Rick Perry had a huge unforced error. He was trying to name three federal agencies that he wanted to eliminate, and he forgot the third one.
The other thing that struck me was that several candidates tried a little too hard to distinguish themselves from the other candidates. It was clear that these attempts fell flat with the audience based on the reactions. I’m probably missing all the candidates that made this mistake but I specifically recall Santorum and Cain attempting to make these sorts of claims. Santorum tried to claim that he was the only candidate to lead the way on opposing bailouts. Cain tried to claim that he was the only candidate with bold solutions and that 9-9-9 was the only tax plan different from the status quo. But overall, considering the current controversy surrounding Cain and on the pressure for him to perform well, he seemed to do okay in the debate.
CNBC also came out as a big loser. I think it was John Harwood that kept trying to get the candidates to fight each other, and failing miserably. Maria Bartiromo also didn’t come out too well after a skirmish with Newt Gingrich.