Well, the winner of last night’s debate was . . . Barack Obama. A modern Republican presidential primary has never been this long or this bitter. Exactly what Republicans feared and Democrats hoped for has come to pass: an extended UFC bout in which the winner and loser are hard to distinguish. Yes, the fight may enter its final and less-damaging phase after Florida, if Mitt Romney wins, although a usually reliable NBC News-WSJ poll has Gingrich ahead in Florida, contradicting other recent polls.

In the debate itself, Gingrich picked on his favorite corner — the media — once too often and got picked by Wolf Blitzer, who hasn’t gotten to look this brave since the first Gulf War. There is an old expression in politics that may eventually apply to the modern Republican Party: Don’t engage in “a (dirty word goes here) contest with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” Gingrich was flat Newt, deflating throughout the debate. (Lucky it was a two-hour debate; that’s a lot of deflation.)

Meanwhile, Romney turned in a better performance than his South Carolina one, but I don’t share the immediate post-debate consensus that this was Romney’s night. Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird we’re hearing about his father being born in Mexico for what seems like first time? Who cares? Is he implying his father was Mexican? (George, or Jorge to his preschool mates, was born a U.S. citizen and entered the country proudly through the front door at age 5 and not in the trunk of a car or on the back of his mother swimming across a river.) And I’m not sure most recent immigrants will relate to a Welsh father-in-law. Finally, just when Romney looked like he was getting by, Rick Santorum whipped about his bat and had a few effective swats against Romneycare.

When this is over and we have a Republican nominee and perhaps a Republican president — yes, despite all this fun it’s still a 50-50, or better, proposition — I don’t think we will have another “team of rivals,” or even a Clinton-Obama-like reconciliation. I think these gentlemen have had enough of each other to last a lifetime.

More PostOpinions on the Florida debate

Rubin: Gingrich wipes out

Rogers: Solid Romney vs. big Gingrich

Bernstein: Even an audience couldn’t save Gingrich

Meyerson: Mitt Romney’s night to shine