Pete, we miss you, though this may go too far: "The debates have been basically worthless other than for showcasing the weaknesses of the various candidates." But wasn't it important for us to see some significant sifting out (e.g., Perry)? And true, as Pete points out, the debates kept alive candidacies (in his view, Newt and Cain) that should have died out much sooner or never even have been taken seriously. Yet what does the example of Rick Santorum show us? He excelled at retail politics in a friendly market and had a distinctive voice in the debates, but he clearly lacked the money and the national experience that Romney has. The debates gave Santorum exposure he wouldn't otherwise have had.
Pete is right that it is impossible to run a state effectively (at least in times like these) and run for president--thus closing the door to perhaps the GOP's strongest candidates among governors Reagan, Bush I, and, it appears, Romney are two examples of those able to run full-time without the encumbrance of office (that is, significant office); Clinton and Bush II had friendly capitols.