Final assessment:  Newt was the star, combative in a good way and very knowledgeable.  Romney was strong at the start but faded.  Cain dealt with accusations well but went to 9-9-9 for everything, I think he’s still well liked but not making the case for himself.  Perry has a freeze which will go down in memory, for which I felt bad for him.  He froze on stage as could happen to anyone, but the reaction will be unforgiving.

At the third break – Round goes to Newt.  Brutal freeze by Perry

Asks Romney about working with Ted Kennedy and Dems in Mass, says “thanks for reminding everyone about that,” then points out had to deal with overwhelmingly Democrats.  Always an away game.

Perry asked similar question, but that always a home game.  Perry says not a party issue, but his tax and regulatory plans lured companies like Caterpillar to Texas.  Will remove three departments but could only remember 2 of 3 — ugh worst moment ever in debate.  Says “oops”.

Sorry, lost track of my thoughts for about 10 minutes after that one, screen capturing Twitter reaction.

Newt asked about student loan debt.  Says entire program a farce because encourages students lingering in college at high cost — points to College of the Ozarks, work study model students graduate with no debt.  Best answer of night, I’ll post clip if I can get it.

Perry says the third department was Energy.

At the second break – Round goes to Newt.

Ask Newt about Romney position on letting housing market adjust.  Newt says right in sense that Japan stuck for 20 years.  Says repeal Dodd-Frank.  If want housing market to come back need to have economy come back.

Romney praises Newt comments, says need to create jobs, what not to do is what Obama did.  Do almost exact opposite of what Obama has done.

Moderator says we’ve created 2.7 million jobs and hasn’t helped.  Romney doesn’t take him to task on that number, instead says government can’t buy all homes.

Perry asked about loss of housing jobs, Perry says not in my state because we’ve pulled back on regulatory world which is killing America.  Audit every regulation since 2008 and if killing jobs, do away with it.

Gingrich asked about his work for Fannie and Freddie in 2006, said they didn’t do what he told them to do.  Told them there was a bubble.  Didn’t try to protect them from regulators.

If repeal Obamacare, what’s the answer:

Huntsman – sit down with Governors and work it out like he did in Utah, and medical records (ugh), no costly mandate. Paul – get government out of Obamacare, more health savings accounts.  Perry, on Medicare give menu of options, incentive to doctors for good care, send it back to the states on Medicaid.  Cain, HR 3000, already written but Princess Nancy sent it to committee.  Romney, return to states responsibility for caring for own uninsured, let individuals purchase own insurance, let work like market, reform malpractice system.

Gingrich, colleagues did terrific job of answering absurd question, 18% of economy and cites his own books, can’t do it in 30 seconds, that’s why wants 7 three hour debates with Obama.  Go back to doctor patient relationship, relocalized, Medicaid back to states, focus on new program on brain science which are largest out years costs, fixing our health rather than health bureaucracy.

At the first break – Round goes to Romney/Gingrich/Cain

On issue of Italy possibly going under, Cain and Romney said focus on U.S. economy, no bail out.  Ron Paul said let it liquidate.  Question not asked of the others (why?).

Romney asked about Michigan auto bailout and being on all sides.  Wasn’t listening to his answer (truth).  Then ask him again about flip-flopping, he defends himself with long marriage, long time in house, long time at Bain.

Then ask Perry “that good effective leaders need to show flexibility” like Romney.  Perry says need to trust private sector, let consumer pick winners or losers, if too big to fail too big.  Didn’t really answer question, chose not to take shot at Romney.

Finally Newt gets question about unemployment, why is tax reform the only path to growth.  Says fire Bernanke, find out who he bailed out and why.  Two cycles – Reagan and his contract with America, each of which was distinct from Saul Alinsky radicalism of class warfare and Barack Obama.

Ask Cain about character issues, say 4 accusers.  Cain pushes back about American people deserving better than trial based on false accusations, for every one person who says it there are thousands who say that’s not Herman Cain.  People care about leadership and getting economy growing.

Then ask Romney about whether he would keep Cain on as CEO.  Crowd boos.  Romney refuses to answer, crowd cheers.

Romney asked if sole goal of corps should be profit.  Romney says nothing wrong with profit, it’s what drives economy.

Newt says corporations can and should make profits and make jobs.  Says astounded by historical ignorance, cites Henry Ford and Bill Gates.  Sad that news media doesn’t report accurately hos the economy works.  Has yet to hear reporter ask intelligent question to OWS protesters such as who will maintain park if no companies to pay taxes.

Before the start:

The debate starts at 8 p.m. Eastern.  I will not have a “live blog” feed open, but will update with my thoughts at each break, and then sum up at the end.

Not that 45% want him to be, but that he’s created a certain air of inevitability, through relentless chatter in the MSM, among MSM not-liberal house bloggers, and establishment Republican publications, which keep telling us that the person most Republicans do not really want really is the only electable candidate.

As Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom points out, this is just another form of Chicago politics:

This whole primary system is getting silly, don’t you think?  What with all the unelectable candidates we have to go through and rule out?  I say from hereon out we just let David Brooks pick the nominee.  At least then we’ll have someone professional doing the selecting, and someone professional selected.

And then we can have a smoothly run professional political machine, where politics is handled professionally by people trained in politics.

Just like Chicago!