One thing is clear from the first presidential debate for the GOP candidates--at least of the ones who chose to be there--President Obama's days are numbered.

With only five of the declared candidates for the GOP nomination in attendance, and notably a weaker field in terms of name recognition, gravitas, and moxy, the ninety minutes went by with a surprising amount of substance being diligently discussed.

In other words facts, issues, circumstances, and policies will not be merely side shows in the 2012 campaign. And if the second tier candidates realize this in spades, imagine how the more forceful candidates, or potential candidates will add to the chorus that was clearly begun tonight: "President Obama has been a disaster and it's time to choose a different direction."

Kudos to Bret Baier and Team Washington from Fox News for pouring substance into just about every question asked. Chris Wallace, Shannon Bream, and Juan Williams asked pointed, direct questions, and pressed for direct answers.

Though pressing wasn't all that necessary given how eagerly and transparently the participants put forward their ideas.
On style, smoothness, preparedness, and performance many will give the win on the debate to former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. He communicated well, handled a variety of issues to the general liking of most conservatives and on the question that would likely hurt him the most--a Chris Wallace query on seemingly conflicting positions on cap and trade legislation--he was candid and humble. A lesson the current President could learn much from.

Senator Rick Santorum gave what the GOP has come to expect from him, knowledgeable answers, an emphasis on the dangers posed by Iran, and the champion fighter for all things of social and moral values. Santorum was particularly effective in linking social values issues to the very core definition and belief of what it means to be, uniquely, American.

Ron Paul was the libertarian crank, and as expected--denouncing the fed, calling for it's end, denouncing all extraneous military action taking place across the global war on terror, giving his approval to gay marriage, prostitution, and of course, the attempt to legalize heroin.

Gary Johnson came off as whiny, a poor sport, and pretty much a one note pony somewhat incapable of moving off the topic of "cost benefit" analysis.

Businessman and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain came off effective and winsome, perhaps the surprise of the night--especially for people that had not heard from him previously.

A first of sorts in the format was the opportunity to rebuff potential or declared candidates who did not show for the proceedings. Tim Pawlenty was asked early on about the albatross that will dog Gov. Romney every day he is in the race--the failure of Romney-care that in essence served as the blueprint for Obamacare. Pawlenty deftly side-stepped criticizing Romney directly while going on to destroy the very definition of the health care reform plans of both RomneyCare and ObamaCare.

Herman Cain was asked about his endorsement of Governor Romney in 2008, in his response he cited Romney's business abilities and prowess to create jobs, but went on to say that the Governor had lost in 2008 and now it was his time as a businessman to bring new effort to the fight.

Ron Paul dissed Michele Bachmann, Gary Johnson got in stabs at both Donald Trump and Sarah Palin while trying to fill time in coming up with an answer to the question of what his reality show would look like.

And Tim Pawlenty surprisingly uttered, "I LOVE THE HUCK!" He was equally effusive about Governor Huckabee's wife, family, and former opportunities to work together on issues as governors.

The truth is that none of the candidates in this debate will be president in 2013. But from their status as strong bench players for the team that is still largely on the sidelines, they put in a tremendous performance on articulating answers to the biggest challenges facing us, and when these debates start happening with the "starters" on the field, Team Obama had better be taking notes.

As Herman Cain revealed--the one decision of taking down Bin Ladin, will not be the totality of the presidential argument. And as all of the candidates indicated--economic recovery not yet realized makes America weaker by the day.

So notice has been served, the journey begun, and the incumbent--coming off his biggest win in office to date--is back to playing defense.

Kevin McCullough is the nationally syndicated host of "The Kevin McCullough Show" weekdays (7-9 a.m. ET) & "Baldwin/McCullough Radio" Saturdays (9-11 p.m. ET) on 265 stations. His latest book, "No He Can't: How Barack Obama is Dismantling Hope and Change" is available now.