Below, Scott has provided a blow-by-blow account of tonight’s debate. Let me supplement his post with my general impressions of the candidates.
Mitt Romney, in my view, was the winner. His answers were crisp, knowledgeable, and poised. He was solid on each substantive issue and effective in defending his so-called attack ads. My guess is that he’s cemented himself as the choice of Republicans in New Hampshire, but still faces the prospect of having independents override that choice.
Mike Huckabee looked to me like tonight’s loser. Scott has already shown how weak Huckabee was during the debate on taxes. He was just as bad on immigration. Huckabee failed miserably to reconcile his defense of providing tuition assistance to the kids of illegal immigration in Arkansas — that these kids shouldn’t be punished for the acts of their parents — with his own immigration plan under which these kids would end up leaving school (and the country) with their parents. In fact, Huckabee was reduced to near jibberish. At one point, he claimed that the kids wouldn’t be punished because their parents would “get in line” back in the home country and eventually they would return to school here. When it comes to substantive analysis, Huckabee is still second tier.
Huckabee was also deceptive in defending his record on tuition assistance. He claimed that he was obligated by law to educate the children of illegal immigrants. But the issue was giving them college tuition assistance — assistance that could have gone to citizens — and Huckabee certainly was under no obligation to do that. In fact, if I recall correctly, he was unable to accomplish this.
John McCain did well except on the immigration issue, where he was reduced to saying in effect: forget about my record — let’s all sit down and solve this thing. But McCain was in good humor and I don’t think he hurt himself.
I really like Fred Thompson as a candidate, and at times he does well in debates. Tonight, for example, he ran rings around Huckabee on the legal ramifications of closing Gitmo and bringing the detainees here. But at other times Thompson seemed a bit lackluster. He still hasn’t solved his “rambling” problem.
Rudy Giuliani did well, as he almost always does, but didn’t dominate as he occasionally does. I’d probably award him second place on the night.
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