Newt Gingrich wiped the floor with the rest of the field at the final Republican debate, partly by attacking the moderator (more on that below). But even the twice-resurrected Gingrich will struggle to revive his fading campaign. So the main effect of his stellar performance--focused on attacking Obama and CNN--will be to boost Mitt Romney. Romney had a few good answers, but was both long-winded and, at times, mean-spirited. He lacks the instinct--except on religious freedom--to provide a full-throated conservative argument. He is failing to lead his party.
Thus the winner is the brokered convention, which looks (slightly) less unlikely after tonight's debate. Romney cannot lead on fundamental conservative principles; Santorum cannot seem to make the most of the social issues without burdening himself with them; Gingrich cannot overcome skepticism about his past; and Ron Paul remains an embarrassment on foreign policy. The one point of unity between the Republican establishment and the conservative base is that we wish another candidate were in the running. That's the inescapable truth of this primary.
Finally, the moderator, CNN's John King. During an exchange on foreign policy, King exposed the full extent of his contempt for his audience: "The American people often don't pay much attention to what's going on in the world until they have to."
In 5 seconds, King summarized everything that is wrong with the mainstream media and the process through which the Republican Party has chosen to select its presidential nominee. That much, at least, was somewhat enlightening.