Andrew Sullivan--who live-blogged the debate--summarized it this way.
My rough take: Romney sailed through this one, although he is digging into positions and rhetoric that really seem extreme for the center. Maybe I'm biased, but I thought Paul was a stand-out, because he didn't seem to be pandering. His fight with Gingrich over the draft was, to my ears, devastating. Huntsman did fine, and I devoutly wish his saner, calmer conservatism would prevail. But he has an awful tin ear. Slipping into Mandarin to answer Romney on China? Like his idiotic decision to insult Iowans, it's just incompetent rhetoric and politics. His sensibility worked in Utah, the way Perry does in Texas. But he has been unable to break out as a national candidate.
Santorum is such a vile person it is hard for me to judge his performance. But he seemed to me to come off as the prize asshole he is: nasty, extreme, reactionary, callous. Perry was irrelevant. But his bid to send troops back to Iraq was insane; and yes, he did say that Iran would literally move at the speed of light into Iraq. It reminds me of the wonderful quote from a former Palin spokeswoman who said that the world was "literally her oyster." Ewww.
My gut tells me that Paul may gain strength in the ornery independent state in the next few days. And Romney's decision to leave New Hampshire this week may have been an error. But I know the odds are now perishingly thin that Romney can be stopped. And Newt balked at going for the real jugular.
But the real lesson of this debate is that this crew is the worst assembled for the nomination of a major party that I can recall. They make you pine for Tsongas. As one reader notes: "I used to be a Republican. Still consider myself conservative. But I just donated $25 to Obama's re-election after watching this GOP debate. Obama should encourage all his supporters to watch these debates. It would make them want to donate."
The Democrats must be thrilled.