Last week's Republican presidential debate hosted by Bloomberg and The Washington Post at Dartmouth College continued to write an emerging story line of this election cycle.
A few observations:
1. Herman Cain continues to impress. This guy has moxie, folks. He knows what he believes and why he believes it. One attendee in the audience last week told me that Mr. Cain has a presence when in the room, and there's something refreshing (if cavalier) about his approach and the way he argues his points. There were a few slip-ups, but overall, a solid performance, and his trajectory continues upward.
Also, some seem surprised that Mr. Cain is now the front-runner. What Mr. Cain represents is something that has been severely lacking in political leadership, and that is common sense. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of people in this country still have a modicum of common sense. Many politicians appear to have some when they first go to Washington and then rapidly lose it, owing to the influence of special-interest groups, including organized political parties. If Mr. Cain can resist contamination by traditional Washington influences, he may prove to be just what our nation needs for restoration to greatness.
2. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania continued their slide, but for different reasons. Mr. Huntsman looks like he's still running for chief cheerleader of any country but the United States. Yes, he was ambassador to China, and he has some good points to make. But this is America, Mr. Huntsman, and you should defend America and our policies first and foremost. I didn't grasp that in his arguments Tuesday night. For Mr. Santorum, his style and answers were more middle-of-the-road, and that won't last in a field of eight challengers.
3. While former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had the most applause lines, his arrogance and "I'm smarter than these guys" attitude still shows through, and that's unfortunate. It kept appearing like he wanted to host a lecture in front of Dartmouth students more so than tangle with his colleagues on stage.
4. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a "potted plant," to quote one attendee last week. I was surprised. Many pundits felt Mr. Perry needed to come out swinging, regain some of the ground he lost, and pivot today to this economic plan he touted but didn't discuss last Tuesday night. That's not good enough — not right now in October, when the New Hampshire primary is but a few months away. Mr. Perry is no longer the front-runner, and he needs to start acting a bit more aggressive in how he challenges former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. His continual return to "energy independence" and how that will singularly turn this country around is farsighted at best, and naive at worst. I expected more from the firebrand governor Tuesday night, when it looked like he had lost any fire whatsoever.
5. Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas were sort of fixtures in the room, each making their own respective points (about the Federal Reserve and Dodd-Frank, etc.), but neither landed any major blows, nor did they try and throw any. And for that reason, they lost ground. When Mrs. Bachmann told viewers to go to her website for her economic plan, that went over with a thud.
6. Finally, Mr. Romney had one of his better performances to date. His command not only of his economic plan, but of those at the table last week was impressive. He didn't seem eager for anything — measurably responding to questions and attacks with that same plastic grace, but grace nonetheless. I have to believe (and hope) he will loosen up for the mainstream, independent vote he will certainly need during a general election matchup, should he be chosen. But as several reporters told me recently, it's increasingly looking like Mr. Romney will be the nominee. He has miles to go — along with a good showing in Iowa, topped by a win in New Hampshire, but it's fair to say the governor looked very presidential last week.
• Armstrong Williams, author of the 2010 book, "Reawakening Virtues," is on Sirius Power 128, 7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m., Monday through Friday. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arightside, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arightside. Read his content on RightSideWire.com.