This is an almost-instant analysis of tonight’s GOP debate in Constitution Hall in Washington, DC.
1. First, the format: much, much better with just Wolf Blitzer and experts from the crowd asking good, pointed questions. Wolf doesn’t get in the way of his questions – or the answers.
2. In fact, the questions are by far the best of the debate season so far. The pre-selected experts – beginning with former Attorney General Ed Meese – and followed by others from the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute – asked specific questions that were informative and focused. This is a format that the other networks should use.
3. Now, to the debate itself. Anyone watching has to be enthralled with Newt Gingrich’s dominant performance. He stands there and cites studies, history and anecdotes. He has the audience in the palm of his hand. None of the other candidates are as entertaining as Newt.
4. Romney has been steady – on illegal immigration, Iran and defense cuts. But he is B-O-R-I-N-G. And that is a huge problem on television. He simply does not connect with voters. Even with good answers, Mitt is flat and dull. He can’t help it. It’s just his persona.
6. Herman Cain and Rick Perry have become worn-out acts. The lines that drew applause and sometimes a laugh a month ago, no longer work. They are both headed downward, and nothing they say or do can reverse this.
7. Santorum, Bachmann and Huntsman have received fewer questions. It isn’t fair that the leading candidates get more air time, but that’s the way these debates work. After Iowa and New Hampshire, Bachmann, Huntsman and Santorum will all drop out. Perry and Cain may last a few weeks longer – through South Carolina, but then the field will be down to Mitt, Newt and Ron Paul. Debates will then improve since each candidate will have more time to answer.
8. Conclusion: Newt won this debate and thus his upward momentum continues. Perhaps some of his controversial statements, such as being basically pro-amnesty for long-term illegal immigrants, will end up hurting him. We’ll see. But for now, Newt is the hot candidate in the race. As Cain and Perry deteriorate, their support will shift to Newt. Romney's support will stay steady. So look for a surprise outcome in Iowa.
Former U.S. Congressman John LeBoutillier (Rep. NY) is the co-host of CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL seen on Mondays at 2 PM ET on Foxnews.com.