Though the former Pennsylvania Senator has performed well and even been called a “winner” by Iowan and conservative pundits in past debates, something about his performance last night—time for a new storyline? primed by Santorum’s Google debacle?—Santorum got more than a few pundit’s wheels turning last night: since Bachmann is imploding, and Iowa is full of Christian conservatives, Santorum could be the next big thing, in Iowa.

One of Politico’s Maggie Haberman’s six takeaways from last night’s debate was that “Rick Santorum has eclipsed Michele Bachmann.” Citing his challenges to Rick Perry on immigration and the fact that he outshone Bachmann last night, she wrote:

If Santorum can make himself the alternative to Rick Perry for social conservatives in Iowa, he has fuel to keep going.

The Huffington Post’s Jon Ward and Sam Stein agreed:

What was clear is that Santorum gained enormously from another strong performance. He has gathered momentum with every debate—speaking with authority and expertise on policy and with obvious passion on issues in a way that resonates with the conservative grassroots. With Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) fading as voters question her electability, Santorum may be putting himself in a position to make some real noise in Iowa, which goes first in the primary process. Depending on how Perry does over the next few months, that could elevate the Pennsylvanian significantly.

Santorum was also a “Winner” on Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog:

We’ve thought for a while now that the former Pennsylvania Senator is doing better in these debates than he gets credit for. Tonight he owned the first hour of the gathering and his hammering of Perry on immigration was a terrific moment. For a second tier candidate like Santorum, the key to these debates is to be in the mix with the big boys (and girls). He was right there all night.

Nevermind that just two days ago, Politico wrote this story about how he’s struggling to find supporters in his home state. It’s good Santorum no longer has butt-of-the-joke status; he deserves to be taken seriously, but this attention—overdue, and all at once—so far seems as much about enthusiasm for movement in the race, than political reality.

Cheers to Dave Weigel for constructively taking Rick Santorum more seriously, and analyzing what he had to say rather than just his place in the horse race.

5. Likewise, falling for the “surging” Gary Johnson.

We get it. It’s Friday, and everyone loves an underdog, especially a goofy one from New Mexico who scores the “best line of the night” with this reference to dog poop:

JOHNSON: My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration.

But the stardom Candidate #9 is receiving today for this soundbite—which it turns out was a recycled Rush Limbaugh joke—seems a little excessive. You’d almost think he polls above 1%.

But, as the tech whizzes at Google tell us—and as one might suspect would be the case for the candidate on stage that is barely known—Johnson did “steal the show” Google-wise last night, “as searches for him spiked well above the presumed front runners.” So glad they were on hand to confirm that common sense.


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And a few final miscellaneous thoughts:

• This time, some members of the audience booed a gay soldier and Rick Perry’s mention of “having a heart” for the children of illegal immigrants. Cue Ryan Lizza’s Twitter parlour game this morning: #peoplelikelytobebooedatnextGOPdebate and a lot of writing about the role of audience in these debates. (See what I wrote on that a couple days ago here.)

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.