Opinion

Who Won the Latest GOP Debate?

First of all, the CNBC hosting crew was perhaps the most un-watchable of all the debates so far. Their questions were inane, far too long – and typically too self-centered. Who wants to listen to Jim Cramer screaming at eight presidential candidates – especially when he is wrong all the time?

Tonight’s winners were Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

The biggest loser was Rick Perry because of his not knowing/remembering his own economic plan, specifically the third federal agency he would eliminate (the Department of Energy). That awkward moment will be replayed for days to come on news shows; he already had become a non-factor in the race, but he is all done now.

Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum got less air time than the other candidates – and it raises a fairness issue: why isn’t the same question asked of all eight candidates and each accorded the same time to answer? Why specific questions for the so-called front-runners – and different questions and less time for the so-called lesser candidates? It just doesn’t seem fair.

Jon Huntsman – a total non-factor in the GOP race – did well at the end when he told us why a tariff stand-off with China was a bad way to go.

Now, to the three winners:

1) Herman Cain was very strong – except for a bad Nancy Pelosi moment – and was able to dodge questions about the mounting sexual harassment scandal surrounding his candidacy. He was buoyed by the crowd booing the question and questioner – Maria Bartiromo – perhaps because the debate was billed as a debate on the economy.

Make no mistake about it: tonight’s performance helped him inside the GOP – even though the scandal makes him un-electable among non-conservative, non-GOP voters and women.

2) Newt Gingrich again played the role of the knowledgeable elder statesman/scold who chides the media and the Establishment. He used history, i.e. Henry Ford and Bill Gates, in a perfect way to bridge the 99% vs. 1% gap – and he ripped the “media” for misreporting how business works in the U.S. He continues to shine in these debates and it explains how – with no money and no campaign staff – he has climbed into third place in the polls.

3) Mitt Romney, a native of Michigan, was good but not great. Clearly afraid of the reaction he received in the last debate in Las Vegas three weeks ago, he scaled back his energy and refrained from criticizing his rivals. In fact, all of the candidates backed off and played the “amiable colleague” role instead of ripping the hide off each other.

Conclusion: Afraid of the fall-out from the Las Vegas debate, all eight candidates went more low-key. There were no fireworks and no contention between them.

Former U.S. Rep. John LeBoutillier (R-N.Y.) is the co-host of "Campaign Confidential" which can be seen Mondays at 2 p.m. ET on "FoxNews.com Live".