The only thing more fun than live-blogging a presidential debate is sifting through the aftermath and figuring out what it all means.
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* Rick Perry as Dave Kingman: Last night in the live blog we threw out the idea that the Texas governor is a classic homerun hitter — when he connects the result is impressive but he also swing and misses a lot. (Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is your classic hit-for-average guy — not many home runs but tons of production. Think Tony Gwynn.) There were way too many swings and misses last night from Perry — particularly in the second half of the debate — for him to move beyond the “is he ready for primetime” storyline that had been percolating among the chattering class. It’s worth remembering that Tony Gwynn was a first ballot Hall of Famer and Dave Kingman still isn’t in the Hall.
* Paging Chris Christie: Expect the clamor for other candidates to enter the race, which had died down somewhat since Perry got in, to pick up in intensity again. To the extent there exists an “anyone but Romney” sentiment in the party — and we believe that there is that feeling in some corners of the GOP — Perry certainly didn’t look like a guy who could carry the fight to the former Massachusetts governor last night. (Watch this and imagine the reaction from those wondering if Perry is the right Romney alternative.) The New Jersey governor reiterated that he won’t run for president in 2012 (again) on Thursday — and we believe him. But, the pressure on him is going to ramp up (again).
* Debates do matter: Is there anyone who can reasonably argue that Romney’s performance in these five debates — coupled with Perry’s struggles — hasn’t improved the former Massachusetts governor’s position in the race? Without these debates, it’s hard to imagine Romney successfully combating the momentum with which Perry entered the contest. To be clear: debates this far away from an election are not consumed by large swaths of the general public. But, how the candidates perform in them set in motion storylines that set the parameters of the race when average people do start paying attention. And that has worked in Romney’s favor — big time.
* Second tier successes: Aside from Romney, the three best performances of Thursday night were made by decidedly second-tier candidates: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, businessman Herman Cain and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.). All three men took advantage of the platform afforded them to, almost certainly, win some converts to their side(s). The biggest loser in that equation? Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann who, like Gingrich, Cain and Santorum, is competing for social conservative votes in Iowa and beyond. The more relevant any one of those three men are, the tougher it is for Bachmann to claw her way back to relevance.