The seven candidates on stage performed creditably last night, with two pretty clearly helping themselves—Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann. But since the stage at St. Anselm didn't feature all of the eventual candidates, one can also ask, which potential candidates who aren't yet in the race were helped or hurt?
Rick Perry: Hurt a bit by Michele Bachmann's strong performance. If, in the next two months, she forcefully opposes in the House whatever deal is reached on the debt ceiling (very likely), and wins the Ames straw poll (quite possible), what's Perry's rationale for big-footing her? On the other hand, he's a successful big state governor who's also Tea Party friendly—in theory, a potent combination.
Rudy Giuliani: There's room in the race for a capable tough guy who's more socially moderate than anyone on stage last night, and one can see Rudy getting some votes in various primaries. It's hard to see how he ultimately wins the nomination. But Rudy wants to take a shot, and I suspect he'll be able to thrust himself onto center stage by being ready, willing, and able to take on Romney, which Pawlenty (and the others) notably failed to do last night.
George Pataki: A weaker version of Rudy as a candidate—but he wants to go, too.
Jon Huntsman: What's his message? If Romney's acceptable, what's his rationale?
Paul Ryan: As the repeated mentions of him last night reminded everyone, he's at the center of gravity of the national political debate. And nothing we saw last night would convince his many admirers that he wouldn't be better—substantively and politically—at advancing the core Republican position than those on stage last night.
Chris Christie: Like Ryan, he could be an attractive third way if the choice seems to be being reduced to cautious Mitt and zealous Michele.
John Bolton: There's room for a candidate who knows more about foreign policy, and is more committed to a Reaganite view of the world, than last night's answers suggested about most of the current field.
And that's not even to mention Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, and John Thune. When's the last time no sitting senator was in a presidential race? And what about Mike Huckabee? Is he rethinking?
And there are others in and out of office who could take the plunge. Jump in, the water's fine. Filing deadlines aren't until November.