Post debate thoughts ...
Let me start by saying that there are three tiers to our grading scale. Who won, who improved, and who shouldn't even be on stage. Let's start with the latter first.
Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Jim Gilmore, and Thommy Thompson have no business in this debate. I'd really like to like Brownback, but he comes across flat. Tommy-boy never had a chance for the sheer fact that despite being in the administration, no one knows who the Hell he is. Tancredo has two issues now -- immigration, and how Karl Rove snubbed him. Gilmore is another no name with no shot. And Ron Paul is, well, Ron Paul. He was a bit more subdued tonight (some are speculating he might have taken his meds tonight?) but he's still nutty as a fruitcake.
Who showed improvement tonight were Duncan Hunter, Mike Huckabee, and yes, John McCain. Huckabee seemed to get into the game a bit more. Hunter was on top of the issues he was handed. And John McCain sounded far better than he has in the previous two debates. Likewise, I'll give him kudos for going out and trying to make a case for his immigration plan, though it still fell flat. (Um, hint to Senator Queeg, the VAST MAJORITY of Americans are opposed to the bill. Please, let it die in peace and START OVER.) BONUS POINT: If you catch a replay of the debate, Play the John McCain drinking game; drink every time you hear him say "my friends." Trust me, it'll be fun.
The stand outs are still Rudy and Mitt. Rudy has been on fire since the second debate, and he lit up CNN's bell tonight by questioning whether the media will report "good news" from Petreus in September if that's the message from him. The lightning bit was good for some laughs, and will likely reflect well with social conservatives. He also made serious points with the "this war isn't a bumper sticker; it's real" comment at the start of things tonight. Mitt carried himself well. Jim Geraghty says 'unflappable,' and we couldn't agree more. He was professional, and refused to bite Wolf Blitzer's bait over McCain and immigration. (The essence of style in refusing to air the dirty laundry on stage.) He also slammed a home run on Wolf's underhanded Mormon question. I really wish the media would drop this issue. It's not relevant, and we find it repulsive to continue bringing it up.
All in all, the debate wasn't bad, and the questions from the audience were better than the Politico ones from the first debate. A lot more of this debate revolved around policy, and the candidates were able to air (read: filibuster) their way through their positions.