Wednesday night's GOP debate was perhaps the dullest affair of the political season thus far, lacking the fireworks expected as Senator Rick Santorum and former Governor Mitt Romney both vie for the top spot. Covering no new ground and focusing on irrelevant topics like birth control and earmarks, CNN proved once again that moderated debates are best left to absolutely any other network. "The Most Trusted Name in News" spent its two-hour time block asking stupid and inane questions, leaving the candidates themselves to inject a sense of meaning and urgency into the evening. CBS found the debate so tedious they listed the audience under the "Losers" column in their analysis.
The biggest surprise of the night was Sen. Rick Santorum's complete torpedoing of himself. His lowest moment came as he blatantly admitted to voting against his own conscience to "take one for the team," an action completely at odds with his campaign message. He chuckled nervously as the audience booed on multiple occasions, loudly when he attempted to talk over Mitt Romney and defend his record from the former governor's challenges.
Romney fared much better as he presented a combative front, often giving detailed responses when confronted as opposed to his usual deference to canned answers. Some of his most clever maneuvering came during his defense of his decision to support a Wall Street bailout while rejecting a Detroit bailout. While saying nothing new or remotely groundbreaking, Romney managed to take the night by presenting a strong persona with a willingness to address his challengers in a meaningful way.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich was in typical character, attributing "infanticide" to President Obama and claiming the United States' enemies are the only ones who are "safe." His hyperbole makes for good television but is unlikely to translate to votes. While Ron Paul may lag in the polls, he's a consistent winner with the debate audiences. Easily taking the most memorable moment of the night, Paul called Santurom a "fake" conservative with a bad record.
At the end of the debate, one was left wondering when it ever really started. Every question seemed like a warm-up, hopefully leading to a discussion of substance. What resulted was a flat performance full of bickering without a single player who inspired a presidential confidence. CBS may have placed the audience in the losers column, but they had an even more damning projection for the night's winner: Barack Obama.