So the Republicans finally braved the CNN/YouTube format, and the most apparent result was that CNN and YouTube did their homework. For the most part -- with a few glaring exceptions -- the network eliminated the silliness and stuck to substance. The questions hit hot topics and sparked some fierce debate. With a couple of exceptions, Republican fears of crypto-Democratic hit questions failed to materialize, and the candidates responded substantively to the rest.
I expected the debate to descend into silliness and gotcha moments. The only gotchas came from the candidates. Truthfully, this may have been one of the least "gotcha" and most substantive debates we've had this year.
Now, who won among the candidates? I'd have to lean towards Mike Huckabee. He steered clear of personal attacks, allowed his natural personality to emerge, and used his sense of humor to great effect. If people wonder why Huckabee has made a major move in Iowa, they saw why.
Mitt Romney and John McCain both did well. They tangled on torture, and both tangled with others on immigration and the war. They showed toughness and poise, and both looked presidential in their own ways. Romney gets the edge here, especially for beating Rudy Giuliani like a bongo drum on immigration.
Rudy was a puzzlement. I understand his desire to fire back at Romney, but he chose a poor battlefield on which to fight. He used the "sanctuary mansion" personal attack, expecting Romney to know the immigration status of other people's employees who did work at his house. Rudy did better later in the debate, but for at least the first half, he seemed off his game.
Fred Thompson did well enough to get a wash, but he needs to start doing something impressive. While his answers were fine and supportable, none of them were particularly memorable. He's the kind of man people want to support if he'd give them something to work with, but thus far, he's more analyst than candidate.
Huckabee did himself the most good, as I see it. He took almost no hits and showed great poise and thoughtfulness. What say CapQ's community?
UPDATE: CNN committed a major error by allowing Brig. General Kerr to stage a question without disclosing that he serves on Hillary Clinton's campaign. Instapundit posted that Anderson Cooper and CNN have apologized for it, admitting that they never checked Kerr out. That's the risk in using this open format, and CNN should have put more resources on checking for political operatives running undercover. Take two steps back, CNN.