Newt was commanding, showing his decades of engagement with these issues. He seemed less irritable than usual and at ease with his place of new prominence in the race. No one can match his combination of substance and pungent expression. He doesn’t just throw out red meat, though. He gave a sense tonight of the complexity of the issues, for instance on Iran and especially on immigration. He’s right about the human costs of mass deportation but he’s going to spend a lot of time talking about immigration over the next 48 hours. We’ll get a test of whether it was Perry’s maladroit handling of the issue that cost of him or simply the fact that he departed from the restrictionist line; I suspect Gingrich is going to have a very hard time defending the idea of creating a permanent class of second-class citizens, which is what the “red card” proposal sounds like.
Romney was fine, although he wasn’t quite as fluid as usual and faded into the background more than in other debates. He won the exchanges with Huntsman on Afghanistan and Paul on defense spending, although not in a slam-dunk fashion. Overall, he didn’t hurt himself.
Bachmann had her best night in a while. She schooled Rick Perry on Pakistan and opened up the line of attack on Gingrich on immigration. Give her credit for taking the time to make sure that’s she’s conversant with these issues, which is more than you can say about some of the other candidates–bringing us to Perry and Cain.
Perry couldn’t defend his proposal for a no-fly-zone over Syria. He went out of his away to keep fighting with Romney. He’s gotten better on foreign policy, but only by a small increment. Cain simply lacks authority on these questions. I wonder who told him Iran has mountains?
Hunstman may have helped himself some by doing more to establish his let’s-nation-build at home brand. Personally, I can’t get over how affected his entire candidacy feels. Santorum wasn’t much of a factor. Ron Paul was crankily charming or charmingly cranky and had his best moment of the night explaining how Washington isn’t truly cutting anything.
The biggest winner? The questioners. Who doesn’t welcome a presidential debate where David Addington gets to ask a question?