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Tuesday's GOP debate: Will it be the best one yet?

The GOP candidates have appeared on more stages than the road show of 'Cats.' But haven't the debates been great political theater so far? Tuesday's event shouldn't disappoint. 

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That's because the moderators – whatever claims they make about evenhandedness – treat the frontrunners differently. Do you think moderators would have twiddled their thumbs, waiting for that third agency-to-be-cut that never came, if the candidate flubbing his lines was Rick Santorum instead of Rick Perry? No, they wouldn’t have. They’d have moved on. 

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“There’s going to be a different standard for Gingrich’s performance now that he’s more than a marginal candidate. And his typical formula of attacking the moderator and disputing the premise of virtually every question may not be enough to sustain his position in the polls,” writes Alexander Burns today on Politico.

Of course, Gingrich’s long government experience and ability to rattle off facts faster than a Twitter feed may serve him well in a debate that’s supposed to focus on national security and foreign affairs. He won’t just know the name of Uzbekistan’s president – he’ll know when Uzbekistan was settled, and the amount of acreage it devotes to the growing of staple grains.

The stakes are high for Gingrich, writes polling analyst Nate Silver on his New York Times Five Thirty Eight blog. Right now, the GOP electorate judges Mitt Romney the most electable candidate. But nothing says “electability” like winning, and right now, as improbable as it would have seemed a few months ago, Gingrich is in a dead heat with Romney in Iowa polls.

If the ex-Speaker wins Iowa it would go a long way to answering the electability question. It would also likely lead to a fundraising splash.

“Win Iowa, and there is a real possibility that Mr. Gingrich is the Republican nominee,” writes Silver.

Of course, there are also other questions: Will Herman Cain have to answer another question about those sexual harassment allegations? Who will Michelle Bachmann attack? Will Jon Huntsman make more bad jokes? Will Ron Paul get ignored by the moderators?

The answers start coming at 8 p.m., Eastern time.

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