In the first CNN sponsored debate between Republican presidential hopefuls in early September, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich had the good sense to sidestep moderator Wolf Blitzer's attempt to draw him into bashing the other candidates.

Most of those in the debate that night caught on to his strategy, and stuck to the job of unseating Barack Obama before he totally destroys the US. But as of last night's debate in Las Vegas, with CNN's Anderson Cooper moderating, it was apparent that most of the GOP candidates have an extremely short attention span.

What should have been an embarrassment of riches turned into an especially ugly, crass, classless embarrassment of embarrassments.

The debate started with some of the most uninformed comments imaginable regarding Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax reform plan, but ended up in a slug fest primarily between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. By the time they were done, and a couple others had joined the fray, at least half of the field looked decidedly unpresidential, and frankly, out of control. This included Romney, Perry, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul.

In fact, at the end of the night, only Cain and Gingrich stayed above the backbiting and bitterness, although I was pretty disappointed with one part of Gingrich's comments. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who also was Barack Obama's ambassador to China, and is so far back in the polls it is difficult to understand why he claims he is a candidate, did not appear, which turned out to be good for him.

(However, Huntsman did appear on the FOX News channel's America's Newsroom Wednesday morning and went on a verbal assault against the other candidates, which frankly came across as cowardly since he didn't do it in a forum where they were able to defend themselves.)

Cooper, who unlike Blitzer, did all the moderating and questioning himself, presided over a loosely organized debate structure that obviously was intended to facilitate intense disagreements between the candidates. Failing to heed Gingrich's admonition from the September CNN sponsored debate, Romney and Perry fell upon each other, talking over each other and insulting each other, with Santorum and occasionally Bachmann willingly joining in.

At one point Romney reached out and put his hand on Perry's shoulder and for a second I expected to see Perry slap it away and nail Romney with a left hook. Seriously, it was that intense.

It was as disappointing a display of political roughhousing as I have ever seen, and Cooper just stood off to the side, obviously relishing his role in providing the Democratic Party with hours of soundbites to help out Obama next year. Frankly, if it wasn't for Cain and Gingrich I'd be saying that the overall performance last night made me ashamed to be a Republican.

Cain took shot after shot over his tax reform plan that calls for reducing the current tax on corporate earnings from 35 percent to 9 percent, the personal income tax that ranges from 15 percent to 35 percent, not counting Medicare and Social Security deductions, to 9 percent, and creating a 9 percent national sales tax. He parried them all, labelling the inaccuracies for what they are - knee jerk reactions and comparing apples to oranges - and called on Americans to review his program on his website and do their own calculations.

I share at least on thing with Cain - we both were math majors in college - but it is obvious that the rest of the GOP field has a brain drain in areas that stray from obfuscation and rhetoric.

One of the foundations of the opposition to Cain's plan is the claim that he is putting a federal sales tax on top of the state sales taxes. That is true on its surface, but usually left unsaid is that states that impose a sales tax do not reduce or eliminate other taxes that it is intended to replace.

Cain's plan will not only reduce existing federal taxes, but in the second phase will eliminate them altogether.

Also, we constantly hear the claim that half of American wage earners pay no income taxes, and thus would see an increase in their taxes under Cain's plan.

That isn't true. Under the present structure, all wage earners who receive a paycheck from an employer pay taxes; they are deducted before wage earners see even a dime for their efforts. But those on the low end of the income scale who have sufficient deductions, get refunds on April 15 of the next year, that often meet or exceed the amount of taxes they paid.

This doesn't mean they don't pay taxes. It means they make an interest free loan to the US government with every paycheck, and the government pays it back the next year. But the taxes are still deducted first. And the government uses that money without fee for periods ranging from a few weeks to more than a year.

Under Cain's plan that will cease. The tax rate on personal income will first drop to 9 percent then be abolished. But everyone will pay the federal sales tax which will expand the tax base nearly exponentially. The US workforce stands at 139 million and even if all of them paid a flat rate income tax it would still only account for less than one-half the population.

But if the total population - more than 300 million - pays a manageable sales tax on new purchases of goods and services, the tax paying base is more than doubled - not even counting tourists and others in the US who also would be paying sales tax on their purchases.

Do these candidates realize that when all the taxes and fees are counted in we currently pay about 60 cents on every dollar we earn and only 40 cents is left for us - at best? Or are they so married to the current system, like Bachmann, the tax lawyer, that they fear any change would cost them money?

Cain's detractors also are saying that prices won't drop when the myriad taxes and fees on business are eliminated. Ahh, crystal ball gazers. The way I see it, if any businesses in direct competition with others that offer their product - Coke and Pepsi, Ford and Chevy, Bud and Miller, UPS and FedEx for instance - are given the opportunity to undercut their competitors' prices, they are going to do it.

If you were number two on the list of competitors and could grab a bigger market share by offering the same product at a lower price wouldn't you? And if all these businesses were given the opportunity to sell the product for less, and none of them did, wouldn't they be opening themselves up for charges of collusion and unfair business practices?

The other inaccurate hit on Cain's plan is that it is a Value Added Tax, VAT, which is used in Europe to artificially inflate the price of goods and tax the public even more to subsidize their failed socialist policies. In that system, a product, take a loaf of bread for instance, is taxed when the wheat seed is sold to the farmer, again when the harvested wheat is sold to the miller, again when the refined flour is sold to the baker, and finally once again when the finished loaf is sold to the consumer.

However, as Cain has repeatedly noted, the Fair Tax on which his tax reform plan is based, is a single-rate, federal retail sales tax collected only once, at the final point of purchase of new goods and services for personal consumption. Used items are not taxed. Business-to-business purchases for the production of goods and services are not taxed.

So calling the 9-9-9 tax reform plan a VAT is either deliberately misleading or monumentally stupid, neither of which are valued characteristics in a person who wants to be President of the United States, although we have that in the White House now.

As far as the issue with state sales taxes is concerned, Cain should make the point in his next debate that he is running for President of the United States not governor. If a state like Perry's Texas, which has an 8.25 percent sales tax, applied the same effort to reducing expenditures as it does to fleecing its citizens, maybe it could repeal its other taxes on goods and services and give its residents a break.

I found it very interesting that on the immigration issue Texas has seen a 60 percent increase in illegal immigrants while Florida and California have seen no increase at all.

And the cheap shot of the night also goes to Perry for falsely accusing Romney of hiring illegal aliens, not once but twice. As it turns out, Romney had a lawn mowing service that hired two illegal aliens; when Romney found out the owner of the business fired them, but then hired two more who had false work documents.

They were fired too. Cheap shot. Really cheap shot. More like a drunken sucker punch in a barroom brawl.

All in all the night was OK for Cain and Gingrich, but pretty bad for the rest of the candidates. The remainder of the field neither looked nor acted presidential, they have no plans of their own, and they have to lie or at least fabricate irrelevancies to find fault with Cain's tax reform plan.

If you watched you may haven noticed that the biggest applause of the night went to Cain when he told Cooper he wouldn't back down on his border fence positon to stem the flow of illegal aliens and other criminals, and when he refused to recant his criticism of the Occupy Wall Street sweaty, smelly hippies.

It is obvious that Republican voters want people who are strong leaders and don't change their minds as often as the wind changes direction. Judging from Tuesday night's performance, the number of people calling themselves GOP Presidential candidates who meet that criteria is dwindling fast.