The Big Loser was Rick Perry. He appeared stolid and thick and as nimble as molasses. He called Social Security “a Ponzi scheme,” which it isn’t, when he should have said it needs to be fixed — raise the retirement age, etc. He once again belittled the scientific consensus on global warming, not supporting his argument, but just repeating it over and over again in a schoolyard manner — na-nanny-boo-boo. And, as if to clinch the argument that he does not belong in the White House, he virtually called President Obama “a liar,” which is not only over the top but shows a pattern of reckless speech: Obama’s a liar and Ben Bernanke is almost a traitor. Perry lost the debate big time, but if he didn’t then the real losers are the American people.

The winner was Mitt Romney. He looked and sounded presidential, and he showed once again that he will not, as have great statesmen before him, let fidelity to the truth stand between him and political opportunism. He mischaracterized Obama’s heath-care plan by wildly exaggerating its reach in an effort to show that the one he enacted in Massachusetts was the very soul of (conservative) moderation. But importantly, he stood his ground and remembered some punch lines I would guess were fed to him earlier by someone with a sense of humor. By likening Perry’s job claims for Texas to “Al Gore saying he invented the Internet” — Gore never said that — he showed a hitherto unknown taste for the cheap shot.

As for the others, well, they were simply the others. Michele Bachmann has faded. She has valiantly tried to overcome her lack of knowledge, experience, sophistication and disregard for the truth, but the challenge has been too much for her.

Rand Paul ought to wear a three-cornered hat and debate from atop a horse.

Newt Gingrich is no longer even trying. He is a total waste of IQ, a smart man who has become a package of resentments — particularly when it comes to the media. Any day now, Newt’s going to stomp his foot and go straight into the ground.

Jon Huntsman. He promised to talk to the Chinese in Chinese. Before that, though, he ought to have something cogent to say in English. He appeared a lesser Romney and seemed oddly physically diminished as the night went on.

Rick Santorum should be mentioned. There, I’ve done it.

Herman Cain presented his nine-nine-nine plan. Now go away.

So who lost? If I am right, it was Barack Obama. Perry would be the opponent he’d most like to face. The Texas governor showed he is not quick on his feet and likes to smile rather than think. His position on Social Security is not only wrong and reckless, it’s political poison. But when the audience at the Reagan library broke into applause for the 234 people executed under Perry  — a hideous moment as antediluvian as Perry’s rejection of the theory of evolution — it reminded me that the Republican Party, like the past, is another country.

But if Romney was the winner, then Obama has a problem. Romney is the one Republican who runs even with Obama in recent polls. It’s possible that Republican primary voters will embrace Perry for the very qualities that made me tremble, but I think the party wants a winner. Last night, that looked like Romney.

More from PostOpinions on the GOP debate:

Milbank: Perry comes out fighting

Thiessen: Perry’s narrow win

Rubin: Perry fails to impress in GOP debate

Stromberg: Romney’s victory, play by play

Gerson: Romney 1, Perry 0

Bernstein: Does it matter who won?

Marcus: Perry doubles down on Social Security