Several bloggers kept track of the action last night. Hoosierpundit live blogged the debate, as did Michell Malkin. The NRO staff also followed along at the Corner, and Hot Air has video excerpts. My wife and I sat on the couch, watching and discussing.
I thought the debate was a pretty good one, and the questions were tough and honest, though like all primary debates which have more than two participants, it seemed more a debate between the candidates and the moderators than between the candidates. Fox picked a good group to moderate the discussion; they kept control, but not maniacally so. They allowed the discussion to flow, and they weren't afraid to question the candidates' statements when needed.
Here's my impressions of the candidates, then (since I haven't paid much attention up to this point):
Duncan Hunter: He sounded good and made some statements I liked, but his demeanor turned me off. I didn't like the way he leaned on the podium and smirked all the time; he seemed like a cocky boss.
Sam Brownback: I really don't know why he's in the race. He made some good conservative statements, and emphasized family values, but nothing about him really seemed inspiring. He seemed a little tired and dull.
Mitt Romney: This was my first real exposure to Romney, and I rather liked what I saw. He has good communication skill, and did a reasonably good job of articulating his position. I didn't like his hedging on whether or not the Surge is working (kudos to McCain for calling him on it), and I think he should have outright apologized to the gentlemen who questioned him from the diner regarding his comment about his sons' "service." He also didn't handle the illegal immigration question particularly well, and I thought it a little weak to dodge the sanctuary city issue by saying that the mayors were responsible for that. I'm sorry, but as governor of a state, you have some political leverage you can use on local governments; he should have used it.
Rudy Giuliani: I was really disappointed in Rudy. I thought he conducted himself well on 9-11, and I thought his statements to the media that day were more informative than the media reports themselves. But last night was one long repetitive litany of "I did this in New York." The focus group after the debate had it right: he bragged about his accomplishments ad nauseum without stating what he would accomplish as president. He (understandably) completely ducked the family values question put directly to him, and was notably absent from the abortion question. His response to the sanctuary city question was completely unsatisfactory; everyone knows that INS is dysfunctional, but to use that as an excuse for doing nothing is irresponsible. He pointed out that they reported all "illegals who committed crimes." What about the crime of crossing the border and working without permission? What about the crime of overstaying your visa? Did he report those too?
John McCain: A lot of people are calling him the winner, but I just don't buy it. He conducted himself well, as always, and he is clear and articulate as befits a long-time senator, but though he stuck to conservative statements, much of what he said contradicts his record and is the same sort of stuff we hear from the current administration. His attempt to explain his position on immigration as "enforcement first" was laughable. He was as steadfast on the war as always, and I think his directness on that issue is what carried the day for him in many people's eyes.
Mike Huckabee: Huckabee impressed me as Romney did. He was clear, articulate, and eloquently (that word has shown up on the 'net concerning Huckabee a lot today) stated his positions. He actually struck me as more genuine than Romney, though he dodged the racism part of the question on immigration. His response to the abortion question was priceless: bravo. I also liked the way he went after Ron Paul when Paul clearly had wandered into the giggle-weeds. In addition, he comported himself well during the post-debate interview with Hannity and Colmes.
Ron Paul: What can I say? Paul was definitely the entertainment of the evening, and despite the clamor in the auditorium during his statements, he obviously has almost no chance of being elected. but amid the shrill isolationist babble, he did have one or two gems that I think are worth noting. He pointed out the ineffectiveness of the federal government at protecting citizens, and points out that if people on the planes on 9-11 had been able to carry guns, then things might have turned out differently. His views on war, though, are completely unrealistic, and his understanding of the government's power to make war is wrong. He stated that the president should go to Congress and inquire "if there is a legitimate national security threat," in accordance with the Constitution. Incorrect. If there is a threat, it is the President that must determine it and explain the threat to Congress and ask them to declare war against the threat. Congress has been derelict in its duty the last seventy years by issuing permissions to use military force instead of war declarations. The anti-war crowd would do better to couch their argument in those terms rather that decrying the war as immoral.
Tom Tancredo: I like Tancredo's willingness to point out the enemy in the war on terror as Radical Islam, and not take the myopic view that Iraq is the beginning and end of the war. His position on immigration is also strong, though he turns many people off by subscribing to fears about the "North American Union." He seemed to be a strong conservative, but he also seems to be a one or two issue candidate. He beats his two drums, and you really don't hear much else out of him, granting that the two issues are the two most important. I don't think he'll get the nomination, but he'll be the guy to articulate the reality that everyone else believes but won't dare state out loud.
In summation, I'll have to split my vote between Huckabee and Romney, with Huck having the slight edge for taking on Ron Paul and for dodging less questions than Mitt did. But both passed the "he looked Presidential" test, whereas the others fell short.