Romney was on his game — smooth, relaxed, and unflappable. He did well in the debates in 2008, but benefited tonight from his increased stature in the context of the rest of field. In 2008, he was up against John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, strong personalities with real gravity, and Mike Huckabee, a fellow first-time candidate who is a natural performer. He was also helped by the unwillingness of anyone to take him on, most notably Tim Pawlenty on the “Obamneycare” charge. If Pawlenty wasn’t willing to back up that line in person, he shouldn’t have said it on TV Sunday. In general, Pawlenty was fine, but faded into the background and sometimes seemed much too canned. He had to be chagrined watching how well Michelle Bachmann did — the average viewer just tuning in wouldn’t have any idea she’s not considered a “top tier” candidate. At this rate, Pawlenty’s going to have a big problem in Iowa, which is another reason why Team Romney had to be pleased with the night. Herman Cain, meanwhile, was unbelievably vague (tonight, it was hard to believe Pawlenty lost the first debate to him). Newt Gingrich didn’t stand out, especially given how much he’s banking on his performance in the debates. Maybe he needs longer-form answers? A friend also got the impression he was kind of ticked all night; for whatever reason, he was sort of off-putting. Rick Santorum was solid, but has a version of the Pawlenty problem — how is he going to break through? Ron Paul was Ron Paul.