In case you missed it, here is the transcript of the debate.
Here is the full video of the debate:
As I see it, there were two winners at the debate last night -- and one loser.
Newt Gingrich was the first winner.
Right out of the gate, he was strong. CNN's John King asked Newt to address the interview that his ex-wife Marianne Gingrich gave to ABC News and The Washington Post -- and Gingrich fired back. Hard.
While I do believe that the personal lives of the candidates is a factor for most voters, I do NOT believe that this line of questioning is appropriate for the debates. There is a very big difference between a campaign issue and a debate issue. The bottom-line is that voters will look at a candidate's record -- both in their public and private life -- and make a decision. The debate format is no place to tackle this kind of thing.
Gingrich's passionate and heated response was appropriate. And it scored him some BIG points right off the bat.
The rest of the debate was good for him, but this will be the moment that everyone remembers from this debate.
The other winner was Rick Santorum.
Santorum had a free pass all evening. Nobody attacked him and -- on the flip side of things -- he was all over everyone else.
For example, Santorum goes full torque after Newt Gingrich's, err, larger than life personality:
"Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich"? DAMN. Santorum goes on to say that he doesn't want to have a candidate where he is "worried about what he's going to say next." Ouch.
Rick Santorum also went after both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Romney, as expected, bore the brunt of Santorum's "Romneycare" attacks. But Santorum also continued to go after Gingrich for supporting an individual mandate in healthcare. After a long back-and-forth on the topic, I think this exchange was the most damning to Gingrich:
MR. SANTORUM: The core of "Obamacare" is an individual mandate. It is what is being litigated in the Supreme Court right now. It is government top-down telling every business and every American what kind of health care that you will have. That is the problem with "Obamacare" at the core of it. And the speaker supported it repeatedly for a 10-year period. So when he goes and says, I can, you know, run rings around President Obama in a Lincoln-Douglas debate, you can't run rings around the fact, Newt, that you supported the primary core basis of what President Obama's put in place.Yikes.
MR. GINGRICH: Well, one -- just one brief comment. Of course you can. I can say, you know, I was wrong, and I figured it out; you were wrong, and you didn't. (Cheers, applause.)
MR. SANTORUM: You held that -- Newt -- Newt, you held that position for over 10 years. And, you know, it's not going to be the most attractive thing to go out there and say, you know, it took me 10 or 12 years to figure out I was wrong, when guys like Rick Santorum knew it was wrong from the beginning. (Cheers, applause.)
Sorry Newt. Using the argument 'I made a mistake and know better now' works for a high school student in detention -- not for a Presidential candidate.
To this end, yesterday on the Twitters, Allahpundit made a great point:
The very worst argument for Gingrich is this fantasy that the debates will become gamechangers because he'd TOTALLY PWN Obama So, Santorum comes out clean with some very effective attacks on the current (former?) front-runners.
General-election debates almost never matter. And O's not remotely the stammering idiot that the TOTUS caricature makes him out to be 
That sums up the winners. Now: the losers.
The first is CNN.
I'm sorry gang, the CNN hosted a great debate -- but that first question-and-response between King and Gingrich just made CNN look terrible. It feeds directly into the hands of the 'liberal media is outta getcha' meme that dominates so much of our political discourse these days. CNN made a HUGE mistake in asking that question -- much less leading off the debate with it.
The second loser is a good one: SOPA/PIPA.
Alex Howard noted:
At [last night's] debate in South Carolina, the remaining 4 candidates for the Republican nomination for president were asked if they supported the Stop Online Piracy Act. An unprecedented day of online protests over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate and the resulting coverage on cable and broadcast news networks finally brought one of the most important questions about the future of the Internet into a presidential debate.So, this is a good type of loser, if you ask me. The more high-profile politicians that come out against SOPA/PIPA (regardless of political party), the better.
Santorum, Romney and Gingrich have publicly come out all against these bills. If asked last week, would they have given the same answers? I’ve been frustrated that so few questions about the Internet and technology have been asked. Clearly, the political calculus around supporting them has shifted. At least Ron Paul is consistent; he — and Rep Michele Bachmann — came out against SOPA weeks ago.
So, the no-pun-intended 'elephant in the room' is, of course, Ron Paul.
Congressman Paul performed very well. As usual, he stated his positions and policy ideas -- but he didn't have any 'testy' moments like the other three candidates had. His debate performances have been very even-keeled. He doesn't make too many mistakes, but on the other hand he never really gets much traction with post-debate analyses this this.
All in all, I think Newt Gingrich -- despite sustaining some withering attacks from Rick Santorum -- fares best in the wake of this debate. He had been gaining on Mitt Romney in the polls, and is now overtaking in some, and I think his red-meat Republican performance at this debate only helps his cause.
It will be interesting to see the votes come in on Saturday. If Newt wins South Carolina, I'm sure that his performance at the CNN debate will be why.