My wrap on the South Carolina debate is up at Plum Line. My bottom line: the other four gave it a good fifteen minutes or so of actually hitting Romney, got him flustered a bit..and then quit for the night after the first commercial break.
Just a few things to tack on to what I said over there...Ron Paul must have had his worst debate night ever. He's usually completely solid at it, but he was off his game. Perhaps because for the first time I recall in two cycles of these things, this was the first time that the audience was decidedly anti-Paul. He had a few supporters there, but it sure sounded like a Perry/Newt crowd to me. I don't know; maybe Paul was the same as always, but my perception was affected by the crowd.
As far as the rest of it: all three of the supposed conservative alternatives had good nights, but Newt probably had the best, at least for a South Carolina Republican electorate -- he got into an elongated debate with Juan Williams about whether Newt was a horrible racist for various things he's said, and of course the audience and presumably GOP voters everywhere were very much on Newt's side on that question. No, Williams didn't actually say that Newt was a racist, but anything allowing Republicans to go for the resentment is a big win. Speaking of which: Newt is really the only one of them who even passably does resentment, and that's not really his big thing, either. Rick Perry does the issue positions and topics of resentment, but he's more of a Texas cartoon character than he is a resentment-filled Southerner. All of which makes me think that if Sarah Palin had been willing to even slightly play by the normal rules of politics she would have been a formidable candidate.
At any rate, I've been saying all week that it's over unless Santorum (or Perry, but that's really not likely) can at least come very close to beating Romney. And I didn't see anything tonight that even hinted that's going to happen; if anything, Newt's solid night made it even less likely. And Newt can beat Romney all he likes in South Carolina, but he's never going to be the nominee.