A solid meaty debate. Because there’s less agreement among Republican candidates, you get policy disagreements and actual arguments, instead of can-you-top-this-I’m-so-committed-to-this-issue contests the Democrats have.
I’m going to score this a… Four Way Win. The four winners:
Rudy: Man, was he wearing a flame-retardant suit in that first debate? Because since then, he has been en fuego, as they say on SportsCenter. Loved the self-depreciating fear of thunder on the abortion issue. Eager to take it to the Democrats. Like with Hillary, it might be a bit early to go after the opposing party, as Rudy still needs to persuade people that he’s the best choice for nominee. But he did nothing to harm himself, and when you’re the frontrunner, that’s all you need.
Romney: As I was watching this, I thought, “I would be comfortable with Romney as the nominee.” The word “unflappable” comes to mind. Solid answer on a borderline unfair question on the Mormon thing. I’m struck by how he manages to squeeze an answer that’s usually pretty solid no matter what amount of time is available.
McCain: For going into this debate with a position on the immigration bill vociferously opposed by many Republicans, the Arizona Senator went out there and made the best case he could. Maybe the best case anyone could. I don’t think he changed that many minds, but he may have walked out of that debate with New Hampshire GOP voters’ respect, if not their votes… And he hit it out of the park in responding to the sister of the slain soldier – respectful, dignified, and from the gut.
Huckabee: Polished. Funny. Heartfelt on the religion answer, on the need to value life after birth as well as before… It’s tough to see him getting the nomination, but he’ll spur veep talk, and again – how great is it for the GOP to have a fourth (fifth, with Fred Thompson?) candidate as effective a communicator as he is?
The rest, in descending order:
Duncan Hunter: Really, a very solid performance; in a weaker field, he would be inching towards the top tier. May have scored some points hitting Rudy and Romney on guns near the end. As usual, after listening to him it’s easy to see him as a future Secretary of Defense.
Brownback: Eh. I want to like him, I really do. He just doesn’t shine up there, and the three-state Iraq plan, even if it were brilliant, was a weak-tea answer to the woman who lost her brother. He doesn’t really do as much as I thought to break out of the “religious conservative” candidate niche.
Gilmore: Buddy, you’re just not showing me anything that makes me say, “YES! Nominate HIM!” Sorry, we only have room for one one-term Republican governor in the first tier.
Tancredo: Ah, mention that personal gripe with Karl Rove. That’ll turn you into a TWO issue candidate. I’m sure Rudy will want to keep you around, as you make a convenient punching bag by opposing legal immigration.
Ron Paul: Less nutty, but still way out of the GOP mainstream. Ultimately, he’s taking up time and space that a candidate with a shot at the nomination could be using.
Tommy Thompson: After two bad performances, we got some shouting. It was not an improvement.