Don't forget that we'll have our post-debate wrap-up at Debate Central at 10:30 pm CT!
Who put the vitamins in Fred Thompson's oatmeal? We have waited for Thompson to show up on the campaign trail, and tonight he finally did. He had energy, focus, a command of detail, and a willingness to finally engage with the other candidates on the stage. He took almost everyone else aback, and seized momentum that he only occasionally relinquished.
John McCain did as well as Thompson, if less spectacularly. He looked presidential, he also had a commanding presence, and he rolled with the tough questions that came his way. He didn't flinch when Romney tried stinging him on saying that some jobs will never return in Michigan, and McCain buried him by noting that he won New Hampshire by not just telling people what they want to hear, but the truth. He scolded Fox for second-guessing the commanders in the Straits of Hormuz, but did it gently enough not to look mean.
Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani had a pretty good debate, too. They seemed a little stiff and tentative at first, but both got moments to shine. Huckabee did a great job with the one religious question thrown at anyone. Giuliani's talk on taxes and the vapidity of "change" as a political theme were good moments for him, and even his answer on immigration should have some people thinking about the implication of policy on the ground.
Romney did the least well in the debate. He seemed a little nonplussed not to be the center of the attack. It looked like he was punching against air at times, and the one zinger he aimed at McCain rebounded badly against him. He didn't seem to find his stride during the debate, and he's normally very good in this format, sometimes great.
Ron Paul delivered more than his share of nuttiness. The worst moment came when Brit Hume asked what the hell he was talking about, and then Hume had to repeat the question when Paul played deaf. He had just scolded everyone else on the stage for a rash reaction to the Iranian gunboat question when all of the candidates had supported the decision of the commanders not to fire, and then made it clear that he hadn't paid attention to their answers.
Even more ludicrously, Paul suggested that Israel could have allied with moderate Arab states to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991 instead of having the US do it. How many of these nations will even have their representatives in the same room as an Israeli diplomat now? Ask Tzivi Lipni about that. He's insane.
And as for the debate itself, Fox acquitted itself well for the most part, but they lose major points for not challenging Paul on the newsletters. Would they have asked George Allen about "macaca" if he had run for President? Of course they would have. So why not ask Paul about the racist, homophobic, and paranoid rants that appeared in his newsletters over a 17-year period? It's a strange and somewhat craven action to avoid the topic.
UPDATE: Fred ate more Wheaties between the debate and his appearance on Hannity & Colmes. He's smacking Alan Colmes around on Iraq and Iran. He's looking for battles and winning them. It's pretty amazing.