1. The Luntz focus group and NRO agree that Fred was most impressive. He was lively and combative. A prepared opening salvo against Huck--which merely collected the familiar charges--stirred the hearts of anti-Hucksters. And he had a good joke about virgins. I thought, though, he was most inauthentic when he was bragging about "his" record in the senate. He was loose, for the most part, and occasionally effectively sarcastic. He wants to be the anti-Huck man. It was a mistake for Mitt to go negative on Huck, but, of course, not for Fred. His subtext is that McCain is too soft on Huck. My own opinion is that, despite his wild swinging, Fred didn’t lay a glove on Huck.
2. My own opinion is that the most impressive thing was Romney’s genuinely expert answers on Iran and the broader picture in the region. He was also, I think, best or most articulate on immigration. But the audience only liked his prattle about change.
3. McCain was good on Iraq. But he may be overdoing his change agency when it comes to the surge. And he was weak on taxes and immigration. Overall, he left a favorable impression.
4. Huck also didn’t say much memorable, although I think only his enemies would say he was actually bad. He gave a stirring out-of-nowhere defense of Israel (against Ron Paul), and other candidates felt compelled to immediately echo him. He got a rude question about whether his affirmation of a Baptist view of wifely submission would keep him from being electable. His answer managed to alllow him both to complain about being oppressed as a believer and offer a memorable defense of marital devotion. Huck might complain that he never gets any questions about the "socal issues" or really any questions that would allow him to present his core message. He was good on Letterman and great on Colbert. (Fred might do well on Colbert too.) My genuine opinion is that the debate didn’t help or hurt Huck. (Well, it DID help him in this way: His supporters are convinced he was the unfair focus of attacks and were edified by his staying in character; the debate might have done a little to energize Huck’s base.) He needs to find some way to sneak the looser Huck back on the debate stage more often.
5. Giuliani was very competent on foreign policy but sort of one-dimensional in his conservatism otherwise. He tries to make the excellent point that there are both good and bad changes, but this may not be the year for that.
6. Ron Paul gave a fine answer on why we’ve lost our way on fiscal conservatism and the most plausible answer on the cause of the likely recession. He was certainly the most authentic candidate and was pretty much set up for ridicule on his less-than-plausible foreign policy answers. If I were a Paul supporter I’d be really angry now.
7. No questions about health care? About judicial activism? Those, truth to tell, are much more interesting to me than immigration--on which they’re all being less than candid.