In the context of the first seven mostly uninteresting GOP debates, Herman Cain’s surge in the polls — and his catchy 9-9-9 plan — provided interest, drama and a degree of boldness. His rise to prominence is less interesting and hopeful now, somehow. Last night’s debate revealed that his defense of his proposals boils down to feeble pleas to voters to do their own math on his tax reform plan and to his competitors to stop comparing apples and oranges.

Yet, the Punch and Judy show (h/t MM) between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry powerfully reminded me why Cain climbed in the polls in the first place. The “realistic” options (that is, the candidates who have the campaign cash and the establishment cachet supposedly necessary to capture the nomination) are frankly unappealing (and even more egotistical than I previously assumed). Both have supported less-than-stellar policies in the past and neither possesses the unflappable affable charm I like in a leader. I wearily maintain either would be better than Obama, but my optimism has begun to wane …

Now, I just hope for a race that will refine the eventual nominee into a candidate capable of beating BHO and for more substantive and less embarrassing future debates. For that, I’d like to see a slightly deeper and more detailed Cain — but, unfortunately, Cain doesn’t appear ready to oblige. Instead, he seems to think the surest way to disseminate information about his proposals is to attack his opponents for not knowing the details he hasn’t provided.

The Republican presidential field’s Mr. Nice, Herman Cain, vowed to go on the attack early Wednesday morning, after an often sharp-tempered debate among the seven rivals.

“They’re getting on my last nerve,” he told CNN’s Carol Costello after opponents criticized his “9-9-9” tax reform plan.

Their attacks on him suggest “they don’t have a real convincing plan” and that they had not studied his thoroughly, he said after the debate.

“Show me your analysis that shows it won’t work,” said Cain, who is running near the top of the field in several recent polls.

Hmm. I agree with Cain that the quibbling and squabbling of the GOP field is a little nerve-pinching at times. But, then, why does he want to join in on that? Surely he’s learned by watching Romney and Perry that attacks do nothing to educate the electorate about anything other than a certain insipidity in the candidates who engage in them. Few rhetorical skills are so highly prized as the art of the well-timed and nonchalantly-delivered barb, but these candidates (with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich) just don’t seem to possess that ability. If Cain does, then maybe I won’t cringe to see him enter attack mode. But if he doesn’t, then he — along with the rest of the candidates — would be better served by sticking to substance.

Just in case it’s helpful to anyone, here’s Ronald Reagan, revealing his debate tips. Watch and learn, candidates, watch and learn: