Rod Dreher thought Romney wiped the floor with Gingrich:
Romney won this debate, and probably Florida, and so the nomination. Newt collapsed, as bullies and blowhards often do when somebody fights back. Santorum auditioned for Romney’s VP, and greatly enhanced his chances. Ron Paul shines on, that crazy diamond.
Will Wilkinson seconds him:
Romney started strong, completely obliterating Newt on immigration and questions about his finances, and then stayed strong. Santorum again turned in an admirably dogged performance, but so what? Romney won the debate and the nomination.
Larison likewise expects a Romney win in Florida:
Romney held off Gingrich, and Gingrich was flailing most of the night. Unless something strange happens in the next few days, Romney should hold his lead in Florida. Santorum may have gained a little, but nowhere near enough to challenge for second place. Paul did a decent job tonight, but Florida is not a good state for him and he’s already looking to the caucus events in February.
Jonah Goldberg gives Gingrich low marks:
I would have bet before the debate that Newt was going to re-energize the race tonight and win the Florida primary. Now, I kind of doubt it.
W. James Antle III agrees:
Gingrich seemed tired, unprepared, and off his game tonight — bad timing for the former House speaker. Romney had some clunkers — he got caught redhanded on the anti-Newt attack ad, the line about not making his own investments could come back to haunt him, and he denied being politically involved during a time period that included a Senate campaign — but he had the better showing overall. I'm seeing many people argue that Gingrich has sharpened Romney as a candidate.
PM Carpenter was amazed by the fight in Romney:
I'm as stunned by Romney's vitality and aggressiveness as Gingrich is. I thought Romney would coast tonight as best he could, given his upward movement — i.e., Gingrich's downward movement — in Florida polls. But Romney clearly believes he is now fighting for his political life, and that Florida might be his firewall after all.
E.D. Kain's verdict:
Fundamentally, Romney was much better than we’ve seen him in some time. He started out a little sketchy, but rallied early on and got plenty of kidney punches in at Newt. Both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum sounded more sincere than either Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. Of course I find most of the things Santorum actually says fairly repulsive, while I find Ron Paul to be a continued breath of fresh air and sanity. Yes, I find most of what Paul says thousands of times saner than what his GOP rivals say. And Paul says a lot of crazy things.
Santorum is completely right that Romney can't oppose the idea of a health care mandate (a conservative idea until 2009, etc, etc) in a debate with Barack Obama. I'm just not sure of the calculus here: Which votes does Romney lose in a general election because he's critical of the national health care law but not defends state mandates?
Fallows focuses on the same exchange:
I am not a Republican strategist, but if I were, I would wonder about the problem of the "strongest" candidate making a flat-out ridiculous and disprovable claim about the issue his party says is the most objectionable part of the current president's program.
Matt Welch liked the audience reaction:
Debates are so much better with a raucous audience. The spectacle of an establishment media dinosaur like Blitzer trying to keep the conversation on trivialities, and getting booed by a bunch of voters, give me hope for this country.
Henry Olsen felt Romney did well, aside from one mistake:
One bad point for Mitt: He didn’t know it was his own radio ad that attacked Gingrich for allegedly calling Spanish the language of the ghetto. Newt picked up on this at one point, and if a man whose primary rationale for running is his ability to run his company, the fact he seemed not to know what his company was doing might undermine his credibility.
Jennifer Rubin celebrates Gingrich's collapse:
I’d be surprised if the Romney camp had a hand in every statement and article that criticized [Gingrich] over the last week or so. (They aren’t that good.) Conservatives have had enough of him, and have come forward out of fear he might actually get the nomination. After tonight they have less to fear. Not only did Romney have the best debate of the primary season, but Santorum’s strong showing should bleed votes away from Gingrich as well.
And Andrew Sprung, like most of the blogosphere, thinks Newt is finished:
The ready-made attack ads for Democrats may be over; they will have to make their own case against Romney.