Debate Scorecard

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There's really not much to talk about. The debate felt like watching live versions of the ten candidates' websites. No fireworks. Not even interesting flash animation.

But, Hey, did you hear about that Reagan guy? He sure was an optimist. City on a hill and all that.

If you just parachuted onto this planet I don't think you could have picked out the frontrunners from this crowd.

A couple also-rans were self evident:

Tancredo seemed lost. For a single issue candidate he never seemed to get around to really talking about his signature issue. Which is immigration, by the way.

Tommy Thompson leapt at the chance to call for civil rights violations — firing people for being gay? A-OK — and otherwise failed to impress ... other than with his expansive vocabulary.

Ron Paul, I suppose, gets points for standing up for true limited government, but he really could take some fighting lessons from Mike Gravel. These are crazy making times for libertarians as well as progressives. He was just too Mr. Rogers to get anyone's juices flowing even when he talked about defending habeus corpus and killing the IRS.

McCain: He hit wasteful Washington spending pretty hard, but pulled his punches against Giuliani, making up some wierd story about how his dig about how police and firemen should be on the same radio frequency wasn't a critique of Giuliani's failure to implement such a system in New York before 9/11. Reflecting his inherited political team, he debated just like Bush used to, as though he were reciting lines from a neocon Hemingway novel. Tiny sentences. About fear. And Iran. And the line item veto. His applause lines about surrender and the Democrats had less sting because his hard-linerism was out of step even with GOP guys like Brownback and Huckabee. And did you see him want to shit a brick when he was asked if he believed in evolution?

Giuliani: Seems to have abandoned the straight talk on his pro-choice stance, waffling on abortion rights, while also muddying his strict-constructionist view, allowing that such justices might uphold Roe. He's supposed to be the superstar candidate, the celebrity counterterrorist. But he came off as particularly average tonight, and his answers to the question about if he regretted his relations black New Yorkers — all about poverty and welfare and crime — veered uncomfortably close to Imus territory.

Duncan Hunter: Came off as a credible candidate. He stole all of Tancredo's thunder on immigration and his unabashed support of the military industrial complex reminded me more of the Reagan I remember than anyone else's policy positions. He had the presidentiality that Romney's supposed to project, and a conversationality about his platform that both McCain and Giuliani lacked. Could get some movement.

Mike Huckabee: He was funny and charismatic. His anti-CEO schitck — sticking up for 50 year old guys losing their pensions should win him points with the Lou Dobbs crowd. He out classed Romney for sure. Though I don't know if America's ready for a creationist. (That goes for you, too, Brownback. Even more reason to forget Tancredo.)

Brownback: I think he might actually have won the debate. He articulated his worldview in a gracious way. He's such an extremist ... but he didn't come off as a hater. He was conversational and articulate. Strayed comfortably away from his talking points and had a great line about killing something — the AMT, maybe? — behind a barn with a 'dull axe'. Again, without looking at the polls, you might think he and Hunter and Gilmore were big top-three.

Gilmore: Weird looking and a bit too intent on introducing himself — he was a Governor, a chief executive, or so he told us about 34 times — and he needed some powder on that forehead, but he — like Brownback — actually articulated a coherent conservative message, and projected confidence and gravitas and everything the jumpy Romney was missing.

Romney: What can you say? He sure looked pissed at the beginning when Chris Matthews took a little too much pleasure in pointing out the fact he'd drawn the far left position on the stage. And the questions about just about everything early on put him on the defensive, such that he couldn't even slam a slow pitch softball: His mindless gushing about the great heart of the American people was saccharin to the point of distasteful. If he didn't have so much cash, you'd have to put him in the third tier at this point.

I know, I know. You can't read too much into a debate like this. It's like handicapping an NBA playoff series after the first pregame shoot-around. Or trying to predict who's going to be the team to beat in baseball after watching spring training batting practice.

But A-Rod impresses in batting practice. You can tell the difference between him and, say, Xavier Nady. Tonight the supposed GOP superstars blended in with the guys who are just struggling to make the team. And that's great news for the big names on the sidelines.