WASHINGTON -- The winners of Tuesday night's GOP debate: Herman Cain and President Obama.
With the devastating accuracy of a CIA drone, the Republican candidates zeroed in on their own party's chances with exchanges that played right into Democrats' hands on a series of issues, from immigration to taxes.
And while Mitt Romney and Rick Perry behaved like petulant, name-calling schoolboys, Herman Cain weathered a half-hour assault on his 999 plan, with which CNN began the debate.
Attempting to out-do each other in their antagonism to undocumented immigrants, the GOP candidates honed in on the toughest possible sanctions and military measures for 15 minutes before someone thought to mention that the party had respect for legal immigration -- and for the Hispanic community.
They missed chance after chance to discuss anything specific about how they would help create jobs -- the country's number one concern.
They mentioned cutting aid to Israel, which was exactly what Obama needed to help him shore up support among Jewish voters.
And they sparred for half an hour about Cain's tax plan, which would add a national sales tax and, according to Republicans themselves, be a regressive tax that would hit the poor hardest.
All of that is good news to a beleaguered Obama, whose reelection strategy relies on harnessing support from his base, attracting Hispanic voters and winning back independents who tend to eschew candidates with extreme positions.
Meanwhile, Cain outshone the two nominal frontrunners -- Perry and Romney -- by acting the role of statesman and never losing his cool. Now safely ensconced at or near the top of the polls, Cain is growing in confidence and command on the stage, even if the numbers of his tax plan don't add up.
Perry and Romney sniped at each other in a way that did neither of them any good. Newt Gingrich was his usual hectoring, lecturing self, vowing to win the presidency by challenging Obama to 21 hours of debates. Michele Bachmann, desperate to regain some momentum, practically shouted throughout the debate. Ron Paul was Ron Paul.
In this environment, Rick Santorum sounded almost mild and reasonable, which gives you an idea of what kind of a night it was -- for Barack Obama and Herman Cain.