After two hours, 14 candidates, and no bathroom breaks (as the organizers warned the live crowd beforehand), the first televised GOP presidential forum -- beamed live from first primary state New Hampshire -- is in the books. It would take someone with a far longer attention span than mine to really process it all, but here are some initial impressions.
1) Monday night's gathering was most notable for what was missing: The fireworks that usually come from interaction between candidates and the fireworks that would have likely come from the presence of Donald Trump.
In the first case, that's because it was a forum, not a sanctioned debate (the Republican National Committee has only approved nine debates, starting with this Thursday's showdown on Fox News, because it wanted to avoid the sort of free-for-all happened four years ago). In the second, it's because Trump doesn't think he's in the running for the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, a sponsor of the forum.
That said, the back-to-back-to-back quick interviews, which the Internet immediately likened to speed dating, worked better for some candidates than for others.
Those who were able to relax, show a little personality and speak in something like a normal cadence generally fared better. I'd put Ohio Gov. John Kasich and South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham at the top of that list, followed by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and former New York Gov. George Pataki.
Others visibly rushed their way through policy pronouncements and talking points, to cram as much as possible into the quick two-round interviews. Gov. Bobby Jindal was a special case, as the rapid-fire delivery that many candidates adopted pretty much IS his usual cadence.
2) Jindal, who is unlikely to qualify for Thursday's opening debate based on his low national poll numbers, had more riding on this performance than did some of his rivals. The verdict? While he didn't do much to stand out, he didn't fall on his face.
The first question he faced, about what he'd do to bring the country together, was a softball, and Jindal used it to move right into his oft-repeated disdain for the concept of "hyphenated Americans," or those who identify as African-American, Indian-American, and so forth. He also squarely blamed President Barack Obama and "the left" for the division.
Jindal then trotted out something else he's said before, that members of Congress should face term limits and shouldn't become lobbyists. He didn't mention the part about how a very successful lobbyist, former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, is chairing the super PAC that's supporting him. Asked about those committees, which can accept unlimited donations, he said he's all for them.
"I'm for free speech," he said. "The best disinfectant is disclosure."
But more than anything, Jindal's comments were a whirlwind of his usual talking points -- not just about the hyphens, but about how America is heading toward "socialism," how the country needs a "doer, not a talker," and how he's got the "backbone," "executive experience" and "bandwidth" to do the job. So if his goal was to stay relentlessly on message, then, mission accomplished.
Given how fast it went by and how many voices were competing for attention, though, it's hard to saywhether he got through to those who haven't heard it all before.
3) The biggest surprise of the night was that, four years after he memorably stumbled when he couldn't name three federal departments he'd shut down, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry wasn't ready to answer a similar query. Perry, whose "oops" will live in political infamy, joked that he'd heard that question somewhere before -- then talked about his record in Texas without ever mentioning cuts he'd make to the federal government.
4) The most memorable moment may have come from Kasich, who's running as something of a compassionate conservative. Asked to name an area where he disagrees with his party, Kasich criticized Republicans who treat economic growth as an end in itself, rather than an opportunity to help those who live "in the shadows."
5) And one theme that emerged repeatedly, perhaps surprisingly, was bipartisanship. Graham rebutted those who have criticized him over his career for sometimes working with Democrats. And no fewer than five candidates -- Kasich, Pataki, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker -- boasted of their record of winning elections in blue states.
Pataki went so far as to predict that he'd be able to win Democrats over to the opposition on the Affordable Care Act. He's been out of politics for almost a decade now. Perhaps he doesn't realize that's the sides are even more dug in than when he left office.